5th Grade Crew // We Are Crew, Not Passengers


This afternoon I heard something that reminded me yet again why I love teaching. Late in the afternoon on Halloween one of our 5th graders said “I appreciate my classmate because she did a great job leading our table discussion during ELA and keeping us all focused on Esperanza Rising. This shows cooperation!” I was elated to hear that even on a day normally filled with costumes and candy, our kids were appreciating one another, not for candy and sweets, but for the opportunity to learn and grow together.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to build strong relationships with the students at DAA and to see them develop as leaders and scholars over time. One of the ways that DAA creates a space for kids to build relationships, grow as leaders and develop our habits of character is through daily crew. Crew is both a spirit and a structure within our classrooms at DAA. Crew refers to the spirit of togetherness, community and the sense that we are all partners working toward a common goal. Crew also refers to the structure of classroom community meetings that take place each morning in afternoon in every class. During these crew meetings students and staff work together to build and maintain positive school culture. Meetings allow classroom communities the opportunity to greet one another, share out, appreciate one another and participate in activities. Morning and afternoon crew meetings help us ensure that all students are well-known by their peers and the adults in our school community. We are proud to maintain this strong tradition at DAA.

Building Relationships
During crew students work with their teacher and at least one other adult from our school community. Students begin each morning crew meeting by greeting one another. Teachers strive to facilitate greetings that ensure that every one of our students starts their day knowing that they belong in our academic community. Afterwards, students share about a common question, allowing them to develop vital speaking and listening skills in a safe environment. Students also participate in an activity that allows them to learn about our habits of characters through adventure and play.

Developing Habits of Character
As a school we promote student development of 6 essential habits of character; Integrity, Curiosity and Creativity, Compassion, Cooperation, Responsibility, and Perseverance. During crew students learn about our habits of character. Teachers also design activities related to specific habits. For example, to work on Cooperation, teachers might have students participate in a team challenge, like untangling a human knot. Teachers also encourage students to reflect on how they have shown habits of character. At the end of the day each day, they also share appreciations for classmates they saw showing specific habits of character throughout the day.

Creating Opportunities for Student Leadership
Crew also provides many opportunities for student leadership. In many classes, students are invited to facilitate different parts of crew meetings and to help teachers determine which habits of character they should focus on as a group. Finally, students who show achievement of one or more habits of character over time, are nominated to serve as light leaders in our larger school community.

At DAA, Crew is a tradition that we are proud to uphold. The spirit of crew pushes us forward as leaders and scholars. It gives us the space to learn about and reflect on character development. Most importantly crew helps us maintain a strong school community, in which all learners feel valued and safe.

RTI // Behavior Intervention

As an EL school, we strive to educate the “whole child,” regardless of where they are in their educational journey. Subsequently, Principal Monge made it a high priority for us to have a highly structured, and effectively implemented Response To Intervention (RTI) Team. The purpose of such a team is to provide various resources and support staff to help meet the needs of each student at DAA. This team consists of academic and behavior interventionists as well as social work services. More specifically, the Behavior Intervention component led by Principal Monge, myself- the Behavior Interventionist, Mr. Anderson- the School Social Worker and the MSW interns, has been in full-swing since the first day of the school year, and we are beyond excited about the progress that has been made thus far.

We have found success in our approach to support all students at DAA through our 3 Tiered Behavior Intervention System. At the Tier 1 level, we support all teachers to explicitly teach various social and emotional skills with the entire crew. With the support of the Behavior Intervention Team, teachers have worked hard to foster a positive culture within their respective crews. Guided by the school’s Habits of Character (Integrity, Responsibility, Compassion, Perseverance, and Cooperation), teachers and students have engaged with and applied these habits consistently throughout each school day. This makes for a school culture that is unique to our DAA community. This level of support also serves a baseline from which we can identify students who are able to quickly grasp the concepts, as well as those who may need additional social/emotional support moving forward.

In order to educate the “whole child,” we as a community of educators and supportive staff, must take extra steps to fully support every student. At Tier 2 of the Behavior Intervention process, we identify students or groups of students who could benefit from additional support. This may manifest in various different ways, including but not limited to, small social skills groups, individual behavior plans, in class support, and/or restorative circles if/when necessary. It is at this level that we are able to specifically pinpoint what social skills and development we should focus on. This level is highly collaborative between the lead teachers and the support staff as we create intentional plans to reach each group of students. We have found that when done with fidelity, students in this tier, most often merges with Tier 1; and in extremely rare cases they move to Tier 3 where intensive behavior intervention is required.

Overall, we are extremely proud to have noticed that the work we are doing as an entire DAA school community is transformational in nature. Subsequently, we believe that if we continue to do this with intentionality, we can eventually become the model for what Detroit Education should look like. “Detroit Achievement Academy- revolutionizing the way that students and educators learn and grow into thoughtful, productive, and engaged citizens of the world!!!!” What a privilege it is to be a part of a team that is committed to making a difference in the lives of the people in our community for generations to come. DAA. ACHIEVE. DAA. HOPES AND DREAMS.

Social Work // Take-A-Break

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Creating high quality work, remembering to practice the habits of character, managing peer relationships, transitioning from topic to topic and all the other day to day stressors can be a lot for a young mind to handle. It helps to just take a break.

Breaks have been proven to boost energy, increase focus and increase our ability to retain information.

At Detroit Achievement Academy, there are a few different ways students can appropriately take a break in order to ensure they are bringing their best selves to their learning.

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Reset Space
Each classroom has a space where students are encouraged to “reset” if they are feeling overstimulated or overwhelmed. Using the reset space in a room is taking a short break while still in the classroom. It allows the student to take a few deep breaths or utilize another coping strategy and rejoin the crew in a short (3-4 minutes) amount of time.

Whole Class Breaks
Each day after lunch our crews practice mindfulness. This can vary from relaxing to the sounds of the jungle to a guided meditation to silent coloring to watching an aquarium live stream . The goal of mindfulness is to get everyone’s mind in a calm, relaxed, focused place where their best learning will be taking place.

Go Noodle Breaks
While mindfulness is a calm and restful way to take a break, Go Noodle is usually an active and energetic way to take a break. Often times during transitions the whole crew will follow the prompts of different Go Noodle videos. This allows the crew to dance and get all their wiggles out before heading to the next part of the day. 

Each grade is given two recess periods throughout the day. This is a time for active, imaginative play. It is a time to brush up on their soccer skills or participate in a game of freeze tag. It is an exploratory time to allow students a break from structured activities.

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Sensory Breaks
Use of a sensory tool can be a powerful way to refocus a student. Sensory tools can be thought of much like a pair of glasses. They are a tool that help a student overcome a barrier in the way of their learning.

There are many different sensory tools that students have found effective. Bubbling timers (as seen above) are students favorites. Weighted blankets or vests help with feeling overstimulated or overactive. Handheld fidgets are also helpful with feeling overstimulated, anxious and overactive. Even bouncing on a balance can give the student time to recenter and focus.  

If you’d like to help our school replenish our supply of sensory tools please follow this link!

Physical Activity Breaks
While calm, quiet, restful breaks are useful for some students, other students need active, physical, exercise driven breaks. This can be as simple as doing some jumping jacks to taking a few laps around the gym. Twice a day recess allows us to be active and physical multiple times a day. Students love to be able to walk and play outside, observe nature and just be KIDS!

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Scheduled Breaks
When our team identifies that breaks are an effective intervention for students, we will incorporate the breaks into their behavior plan. Students will have a set time during the day they know they will be able to recenter and reset to bring their best selves to class.

Taking a break has been proven to increase students ability to focus, increase energy and retain information. Allowing students the time and space to be able to take breaks is all about them being able to be the best learners possible.

Kindergarten // Skills Block

A question teachers often get from parents and families is “How do you effectively teach students who are on so many different academic levels?” At DAA, K-3 teachers can confidently answer that question by pointing to our Skills Block! Skills Block is an hour-long segment of the day that focuses on one 15 minute phonics or spelling-focused whole group lesson and 45 minutes of differentiated independent work and teacher-guided small group instruction. Coupled with the Reading Modules and Labs block, the goal of Skills Block is to address every learner’s needs individually and move students to and beyond grade level in reading, decoding, and spelling.

The whole group lesson is a short and engaging lesson focused on a grade level standard. In Kindergarten, for example, we have been reading one poem each week, and each day using the poem to teach one foundational reading skill: identifying 2 letters a week, identifying and producing the sounds of those two letters, handwriting of the two letters, rhyming words, and syllables. Each lesson involves singing, reading poems, movement, and fun! For example, when we learn how to write letters, we use our fingers to write the letters in the air, and when we are learning about syllables, we play a game called “Feel the Beats” and pat out all the syllables in the poem.

After the whole group lesson, students move into small groups according to their microphase (their instructional level), based on 1-1 spelling and decoding assessments given at the beginning of the year. Students work on independent activities, such as reading, writing, word work, handwriting and sight words. Each group goes to different center areas, and within each center area, there are different activities depending on the goals of the group. In Kindergarten right now, some students are working on writing their names, others are working on identifying letters, some are working on matching letters to sounds, and others are working on beginning to make words.

While students are working on independent activities to meet their goals and instructional needs, teachers are pulling small groups of students to teach new activities, play new games, teach small group lessons, or read decodable books that are specific to their instructional level as well. Teachers pull from an activity bank of suggested activities and always make sure to pick an activity that is appropriately challenging to push students to meet their goals in reading and spelling.

If you’d like to see Skills Block in action, feel free to visit your child’s crew any day of the week! It is a fun, active, busy, hardworking, and a little loud time of the day, but it’s also a time where students are really building the skills necessary to become stronger readers and writers!


Art // Art Educators Conference In Detroit!

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The Michigan Art Education Association is such a wonderful resource for art educators. Their yearly conference is a great way for art teachers around the state of Michigan to stay connected, engage in new techniques, and learn from one another. We were so lucky this year to have the conference held right here in Detroit! Having the conference in Detroit was such a cool experience, because it gave me the opportunity to not only brag about all the cool stuff that is happening in our city but also share resources with other art educators that are not from around here.

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Another really exciting part about the MAEA conference is that art teachers get the chance to find local resources to help support their programs. These resources include everything from gift cards, art supplies, information about local art organizations, and even opportunities for artists and teachers to apply for grants and giveaways.


However I would have to say that the best thing about the conference is getting to register for all the amazing lectures, workshops, and activities. This years conference offered four days worth of activities and events in and around the city. I was able to attend many different participatory seminars that showed me new techniques such as sgraffito which is a combination of drawing and ceramics. I gathered many new ideas that I can’t wait to use in class, these ideas will help me promote a better sense of curiosity and creativity within all our crews at DAA. Mrs. Erin from Detroit Prep was also an excellent presenter this year (Go Mrs. Erin!!). She shared her vision for how to successfully connect elementary art and social studies using the theme of a road trip and making authentic connections to geography and social studies incorporating a focus on Detroit-based and Michigan-based artists. We also enjoyed running into many of our friends and colleagues from around the city and beyond, we even found Mrs. Maddens!

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2nd Grade Crew // Learning Through Labs

“Play is the highest form of research.” -Albert Einstein

As children grow and develop, so does their curiosity and fascination with different topics. Students discover unique interests and learn through exploring and experimenting with hands-on materials.



In our module lessons, students are immersed in rich character texts and participate in collaborative conversations with their peers. Students are able to practice their habits of character while participating in joyful and engaging activities with their crew. In Labs, students rotate through 4 of the 5 available labs, depending on what they are studying in their Module Lessons. The lab names are- Explore, Engineer, Imagine, Create, and Research. Each lab is an important extension of the module because it allows students to immerse their minds into the topics they are learning and further their explorations to become an expert in the area and gain hands on experience in the field of study.

During our first Module, we explored the importance of schools and discussed the challenges children around the world face while going to school. Students discussed how they can create a world of play for themselves and others, reimagined what an ideal classroom would look like, and researched each other’s social interests.

During our imagine lab, students are able to explore with dress up materials, blocks, play dough, and art supplies while diving into reader’s theatre scripts from schools around the world. As I monitor groups, I hear many laughs, kind words, and students showing cooperation to learn and grow about the world around them.

Labs is an exciting time in our day to focus on a character targets, work with engaging and imaginative materials, and build community through play.

We hope you can come in and join us sometime!


Love and Laughs,
Ms. V’s Second Grade Crew

Recess // Our New Playground!

The first few weeks of recess was full of perseverance and curiosity. Students watched through a closed gate as workers in bright green vest, drove big trucks and plowed mounds of dirt where our old playground once stood. Many questions were asked. “What are they doing?” “What happened to the playground?” “Are they building a new playground?” and the biggest question of them all, “Will we be allowed to play at the new playground?”

As the weeks passed, students continued to watch tirelessly through the closed gate. Finally, the playground was coming to life. Up went the swings set, then the slides and jungle gym, then the see-saw, rocking animals and two unfamiliar pieces of equipment that spun around in circles. At last! The day has come, DAA gets the okay to utilize the new playground. But, we couldn’t just let the students enjoy the new beautiful park without setting some ground rules. Teachers and staff collaborated on setting norms and modeling what recess should look, sound, and feel like for students.  

The first few days did not go as planned because students did not understand how to properly use some the equipment and how to show self control when playing on the equipment, it took a little more modeling and going over recess/playground norms to get it right. We finally came up with the perfect solution, alternating times and days between grade levels. So, some days Kindergarten and 1st grade would stay on DAA’s home field where they can play soccer, play on the monkey bars and other recess equipment, while 2nd and 3rd grade played on the new field and vise versa. This solution worked best for everyone including 4th and 5th grade and now, the new playground as well DAA’s home field is where we get out all of our wiggles and sillies, so when it’s time to get back focused on the joys of learning students will be calm and ready.


RTI // Academic Intervention

This year DAA is excited to offer academic intervention (Response To Intervention) to all grades K-5 with Mrs. Bradley (4th & 5th grade), Mr. Lemons (2nd & 3rd grade), Ms. Turner (1st grade), and Ms. Shanell (kindergarten). Academic intervention is provided to children with the most need and opportunity for growth in each classroom based on NWEA MAP data, reading levels, and benchmark assessments to measure where a child stands academically in math and reading. These tests are used to intentionally create groups of children that need the most assistance in both reading and math and allow us to aim our work at particular weaknesses in each subject (tier 2 support).

In October after all of the initial testing that the beginning of year has, we rolled out the official start of intervention using EL Education’s skills block for reading and Number Worlds for math.

Each round of academic intervention will last six weeks with the same caseload. After six weeks, each child is retested in math and reading using the benchmarks previously used in order to see if they are still the most in need of intervention or if they can graduate off of the caseload and return to only receiving classroom instruction (tier 1).

EL Education’s skills block is used in all of the K-3 classrooms throughout DAA in order to give our kids a time to practice things like grammar, spelling, and punctuation in a small group with children at their same level. This practice will help create a foundation for our readers in order to move from learning to read to reading to learn.

Number Worlds is a math curriculum based on Michigan state standards that allows kids to play games that apply the math that they are working on to real world problems. The games have proven to be very engaging and keep our kids focused on the math.

Each child is seen at least three times per week in group and potentially pulled for one-on-one work as needed. In both the reading and math interventions, the children receiving intervention are given a short assessment at the end of each week in order to ensure that they are internalizing the information taught that week. Through RTI we aim to give our children the opportunity to feel successful and grow to or above grade level in reading and math and returning from a tier 2 support to tier 1.

Social Work // Just Take a Deep Breath

“Just take a deep breath.”

This is a piece of advice that we all have heard. Maybe you have even given this advice to your child or a loved one while they were feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, sad or angry.  

There is a reason why this piece of advice is tried and true; it works. Deep breathing releases endorphins throughout the body, slows heart rate, promotes blood flow, promotes better sleep and stabilizes blood pressure. Deep breathing is an effective method to control emotions and regulate problematic behaviors.

This is more than just huffing and puffing. It is being intentional, mindful and thoughtful with your breathing.

Here are some of the basics of deep breathing:


Posture: One of the most important aspects of deep breathing is the how your body is set before you begin taking your deep breaths. If you are sitting, standing or lying down your spine should be straight. Think of the top of your head and your tailbone point A and point B. Draw as straight of a line as possible between those two points.

Belly Breathing: Now that you are in the correct posture, it is time to take a few deep breaths. Place one or both hands on your abdomen (between your belly button and rib cage). Take a slow deep breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth. You should feel your hand rise and fall with each breath. If it helps, you can imagine there is a balloon in your abdomen, with each breath in it should inflate and deflate. Repeat the cycle 5-10 times.









Variations: Now that we have the basics down we can throw in some different variations to more effectively take deep breaths.

  • 4-7-8 Breathing: Check and correct your posture. Breath in through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold for 7 seconds. Breath out through your mouth for 8 seconds. Do this cycle for around 5-10 times. Note: it is difficult for some children to breath out for 8 seconds. Encourage them to breath out slowly and “empty their balloon.”
  • Bumble Bee Breathing: Check and correct your posture. Take a deep belly breath through your nose. Exhale slowly while making a loud “Hummmmm” or “Buzzzzzzz” sound. Try again with your eyes closed. Focus on the sound. Notice how the vibration feels on your mouth. Do this for 3-4 times. Next, close your eyes and block your ears. Notice how this changes your experience. Continue to repeat a 3-4 times. You can try different sounds when breathing out. This is a good introduction to feeling all the different senses and general mindfulness.
  • Mantra Breathing: Check and correct your posture. Begin with a few deep slow breaths. As you breathe in say, “Breathe in Compassion.” As you breathe out say, “Breathe out Hate.” This can change to any skills you would want to be working on (i.e. Calm / Anxiety, Peace / Turmoil) Another alternative, as you breathe in say, “I change my thoughts.” As you breathe out say “I change my world.” The selection of your mantra is personal. Whatever has meaning to you, will work best.  



Hopefully now the next time you hear or say “Just take a deep breath” you will know exactly how to best take that breath.

1st Grade Crew // Morning Crew


Every day starts the same in first grade. The predictability of our morning routine gets students excited and prepared for our day. We begin our day with a 30-minute morning meeting, called morning crew. While its structure and essential components remain the same, the lessons and students’ deeper understanding vary.

Morning crew is a great time to teach DAA’s Habits of Character- responsibility, compassion, cooperation, curiosity and creativity, integrity, and perseverance. These Habits of Character are embedded into learning targets specifically created for our crew. These “I can” statements give students an understanding of the desired outcome. Each week we have one learning target that allows students to really understand, experience, and by the end of the week, articulate the more specific aspects of the very general Habit of Character.

We are spending the entire month of November focusing on responsibility. Each week through various learning targets, students gain knowledge about the different components that encompass responsibility. An example of one of our weekly learning targets is: “I can show responsibility by staying focused and resisting distractions.” While the learning targets change from week to week, they build on each other and are continuously referred to and talked about.

The routine of our Crew meeting remains the same. We begin each morning crew meeting with a greeting. The greeting allows students to name each person in our circle, while at the same time, have fun. Greetings vary from a singing to a chant, to a creative animal greeting, to even showing off a dance move! Greetings are a fun way to engage, energize, and entertain.

Following the greeting, we have a share. In our room, share time lets students at each table have their own day to bring in something special from home to share with our crew. It’s a modern-day “show and tell.” Students are really thoughtful about the items they bring in and complete a questionnaire before their share to get their minds thinking of why they chose their specific object and the details they might want to share about it. So far students have brought in books they have created at home, their favorite toy, a special stuffed animal, and even a family photo! After a student presents his or her share item, they are able to respond to three questions from the crew. This opportunity allows students to make connections and learn more about their classmates.

Next up in our meeting is our initiative (the main activity). It is during this time that students can display their understanding of the habit of character we’re focused on. For example, during our Statues initiative, students found ways to show responsibility. The class split up into two groups, movers and statues. Statues have to stay perfectly still without laughing, while movers try everything they can to distract the statues and get them to lose focus, laugh or move. Students who are statues realize they need to put their imaginary blinders on and resist distractions. Before we switch roles, we think of additional ways we can resist our movers distractions. Some suggestions students come up with are; staying laser focused on an object, picking a comfortable position, and thinking about being the last one standing. These suggestions require students take responsibility for their actions.

Following our activity we debrief and discuss what went well and how a can improve. We also connect how our activity relates to the classroom. Students learn that they can resist any distraction that might happen in our classroom by putting on their "blinders", staying laser focused, and by thinking about what's important--in this case, taking responsibility and learning!

We finish our morning crew meeting with a short written message letting students know what they can expect throughout the day ahead! Overall, our meeting serves as a classroom community builder and definitely sets the tone for the day!