Recess at DAA!

DAA is a public urban school. However, we differ from many other schools in the various ways that we work to develop and educate the “whole child.” One of those ways is our philosophy on the importance of students having recess….TWO recesses at that!

DAA Teacher: “How’s things going for you at your school?”

Traditional Teacher: “With all the pressure from administration to meet our yearly achievement goals, I am STRESSED and that’s an understatement!” Sometimes, I just want to skip recess or gym. That time is cutting into the students’ instructional time.”

DAA Teacher: “Really? I cannot imagine cutting recess. The students literally need to have recess!”

Traditional Teacher: “I guess, you’re right! But I’m sure you could imagine how much more time can be spent actually teaching though. We have pretty ambitious goals for our students to achieve on the M-STEP and NWEA MAP assessments. Literally every minute counts!”

DAA Teacher: “We have ambitious goals for our students to achieve too.  We just believe that the advantages of having recess is huge part of that as well.”

Traditional Teacher: “Don’t get me wrong, I believe recess is important and all. But I’m just thinking about how to optimize my time with the students.”

DAA Teacher: “Yea but that time spent during recess is a necessary mental break for them with such a long day…that’s why we have two recesses everyday.”

Traditional Teacher: “TWO recesses???? Here it is, I’m thinking of ways to cut our ONE recess from 20 mins to 10 mins, and you’re telling me that you all give each student two recesses everyday.”

DAA Teacher: (awkwardly) “Uh….yea. It works for us! It helps us to truly develop the whole child- socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively.” And it’s supported by global research!”

Traditional Teacher: “Really? But you don’t feel pressure to spend more time teaching and working with the students academically?”

DAA Teacher: “Yes, I feel that pressure. We all do. However, that pressure is eased as students are more excited about finishing their high quality work right before recess. That pressure is also reduced when I notice that students collaborate better in academic groups because they’ve had ample time to collaborate often during recess. Finally, that pressure is almost eliminated when I notice that students are paying more focused attention during instruction because they had at least 2 chances to release their excess energy and antsy movement.

Traditional Teacher: “Wow!”

DAA Teacher: “I find that those mental, social, and physical breaks force both students and teachers to be more intensely focused and productive during instructional time- hence an overall less stressful educational experience for all involved.”

Traditional Teacher: “That’s fascinating!”

DAA Teacher: “And guess what? The students are still showing significant growth on all of the mandated school-wide assessments.”

Traditional Teacher: (smiling) “Well hey. Sounds like I need to be trying to adopt some of DAA’s philosophies in my own classroom. Thanks for sharing!”

DAA Teacher: “Anytime! I can share some of the research that supports what we do if you want.”

Traditional Teacher: “Ok. That would be helpful!”


Resource 1, Resource 2, Resource 3, Resource 4

5th Grade // Athletes As Leaders of Social Change

For us, it all started with Jackie Robinson...

For him, it started on January 31, 1919. A man who would someday be a legend was born. He worked hard and was a talented athlete, but he lived during the Jim Crow Era. This meant that his opportunities were limited. However, on April 15,1947 Jackie had a great opportunity to join the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branch Rickey gave him the chose him to join the Dodgers not only because he was a talented athlete, but also because he had strong character. His personality confidence and leadership made him the right man for the job.

There were many factors in Jackie’s success as a leader of social change. Some of them were people around him like family friends and fans. Others were the historical context of his time and of course, his habits of character. With lots of hate mail and all the racism going on throughout the country, his family supported him and kept him sane so he could change the world. One of the other factors in his success was that he had strong habits of character. He had respect for himself and others. He had courage and faith in our free society.


Almost exactly 99 years after Jackie was born, our 5th grade class started reading about him and learning about his legacy. Jackie believed that “A life is not important except on the impact it has on other lives.” He inspired athletes long after his time, and their stories have inspired us. This book is our way of making an impact on others’ lives. In the pages of our book you will read about barrier breakers, athletes who have carried on Jackie’s legacy by being great leaders of social change.

Every part of this publication was student driven. Students selected the athlete that they found most inspiring. Students created the artwork with Ms. Brott through a process of multiple drafts and revisions. They also conducted research, and created an annotated bibliography based on their learning.  They wrote the introduction, voted to select a title, created a table of contents, and decided that we wanted to sell our book not for profit, but to share the stories of these inspiring leaders of social change.

We ordered a few copies of our book for our classroom and our school library. If you would like you very own copy of our students’ work, the book is available for sale online. We hope that you enjoy it.

1st Grade Crew // Celebration of Learning!

Celebrations of Learning heighten the level of excitement among the Detroit Achievement Academy learning community. Students know a Celebration of Learning is a coveted event when they get to show off and display the hard work and learning they have done about a topic for their families and the school community. For three months, my first grade students studied the sun, moon, and stars, and at the beginning of February, they shared their hard work during this culminating event!

Families spent the evening as “students,” while students transformed into “teachers “ or “experts” on the sun, moon and stars. When we began studying this unit, students created a KWL chart --What I KNOW, What I WONDER, What I LEARNED. At the time, they could only fill out the ‘K’ and ‘W’ because we had just started our unit. Students had many wonders about our topic — “Where does the sun go at night? How does the moon change shape? How hot is the sun?”. While students had a tiny bit of knowledge beforehand, I looked forward to seeing the ‘L’ column (What I LEARNED) grow throughout the unit.

We began our unit by reading a letter from a curious boy who wanted to learn more about the sun, moon, and stars. This boy exemplified the curious first graders who sat before me. Through various narrative texts, students began to understand why the sun, moon, and stars inspire authors. Some of our read-aloud books included, Papa Please Get the Moon For Me by Eric Carle, Summer Sun Risin’ by W. NIkola-Lisa, and Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. Students responded to these books through role-play and written response. During our second unit, students began focusing on the science concepts of observable patterns in the sky. They tracked observations of the sun, moon, and stars through pictures and videos in their Sky notebook, something they will share during the Celebration of Learning. The final unit focused students on a read-aloud book What the Sun Sees, What the Moon Sees by Nancy Tafuri. Students first read the book to understand details about the sun and moon at different times of day. They used this book to inspire writing their own narrative poem about the sun. Students received feedback from their peers to help them revise their poems. This culminating project, a three-verse narrative poem about the sun, was another exciting piece of work students shared with their families.  

Students had opportunity to share all of the information they have learned and created as ‘experts’ during our Celebration of Learning. First graders sang a song, taught families a sun and moon movement routine, and presented their work in small groups to their families. Families were given a “question sheet” featuring the guiding questions from our unit to ask students throughout their presentations. Students’ responses showed off their learning!

During the weeks leading up to the Celebration of Learning, students were busy preparing to ensure they become ready and confident to display their expertise. They rehearsed, practiced, and received feedback from their peers. Prior to arriving to our Celebration of Learning, families were asked to fill out the same ‘KWL’ chart students filled out at the beginning of the unit. Families only filled out the ‘K’ and “W”— what I know and what I wonder. Once the presentations concluded, parents filled out the ‘L’— learning, and students were able to see all the information their family learned from them! It was so exciting for our whole crew!

Here are students giving and receiving feedback on the narrative poems they presented at Celebration of Learning:

2nd Grade // Field Work

During the morning of December 15, 2017, forty three excited and impatient second graders boarded a bus to the Ann Arbor Museum of Natural History. The air was buzzing with anticipation. During the long snowy ride, you could hear the little voices discussing “fossils,” “extinction,” “ichthyosaurs’,” and “paleontologists.” Peers were asking each other questions, trying to predict what treasures the museum would hold.

When we arrived, you could feel the kids’ joy. Students were eager to finally explore exhibits about the topics they’ve been learning about in the class. While exploring, each student worked as a scientist, using a note-catcher to document their findings and illustrate all the fascinating displays. You could hear students making connections to the work they’ve done in the classroom; they were reciting facts and information to others as they browsed. There were many “oohs!” and “ahhhhs!” as students learned new facts.

So why do we have “field work”? Why is it important to the success of students? Well, ask yourself this question- when you learn how to cook, do you just read the recipe and then you know it automatically? Unless you have a perfect memory, chances are, probably not. Just like chef’s need to create and explore with their ingredients, students need opportunities to extend their learning beyond the books. While rich texts provide an excellent source of information on a topic, they aren’t enough to make us experts in one particular topic. When students are able to have a direct relationship with the world around them and make authentic connections, they are able to expand their schema, and develop their own ideas!

Field work doesn’t only require students to use reading, writing, and listening skills. They are also able to develop their researching and critical thinking skills while they explore in the field. Students are also able to interview experts and raise questions they may have from their units in class. Students are able to take charge of their learning through field work by examining topics they find interesting and making connections to things they already know.

While it is an exciting day for students to get out of the classroom and into the real world for learning, field study is also essential for students to make real connections between what they’re learning in the classroom to the community around them. According to EL’s Core Practice’s, It provides opportunities for students to analyze multiple perspectives, voice their opinions, construct arguments supported by evidence, and to act in service to their communities.” By giving students an opportunity to achieve success inside and outside of the classroom, it will inspire them towards high-level academic achievement and bring learning to life!

Art // How We Achieve High Quality Work

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DAA artists have been hard at work in the art room creating beautiful and meaningful works of art. Students model expeditionary learning skills to reach their full potential, during each module students are encouraged to be reflective and thoughtful about their work through the peer review process and the creation of multiple drafts.

I would like to shine a light on the steps our students take to achieve such high quality work! The examples you see are from our third grade crew’s study of adaptations and the world of frogs. The first step in our process is research! For this assignment 3rd graders were asked to observe, investigate, and wonder about frogs. I ask students to make scientific observations and sketch the frog, unassisted. This is a great way for me to gauge their skills and abilities. Then step by step we learn how to draw a frog, practicing to build our knowledge of the frog’s unique body shape and features and confidence in our drawing ability.

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After learning how to draw frogs, we began research on the frog life cycle and habitat. We did this by creating an interactive life cycle wheel that the third graders will use as a tool to teach younger students. All of this knowledge and practice serves as a base for our final products that we will plan to use as a celebration of our learning from this EL module.

As part of our final product initiative, students learned about expert illustrator Jerry Pinkney and his artistic process, to help prepare for the creation of their own book cover about Freaky Frogs! Students had example images of frogs, their habitats and information about the other amphibians, plants, and insects that live there.   

Step 1
Planning Worksheet: Students use their research to develop an illustration that captures their learning.

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Step 2
First Draft: Students receive teacher feedback and start the first draft of their book cover.

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Step 3
Criteria for Success Checklist & Peer Review: Our checklist is used so students can know the expectations of high quality work. They go through this process with a partner, giving and receiving feedback on their work. For this peer review we used the praise, question and suggest protocol and each student received feedback to consider how to improve before beginning their final draft.

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Step 4
Final Draft: The final draft of our book cover for our end of module celebration of learning is where all the students knowledge, drawing skills and practice come together. The final draft of our book cover illustrates our students are active participants of receiving feedback and using it to refine and improve their work.

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Habits of Character // Contest!


As you pick up your kid from school on our early release Friday you will probably hear a lot of excitement coming from the gym. One of our favorite things to do at DAA is to celebrate our kids! Each Friday we get to celebrate one crew who has shown incredible compassion, cooperation, integrity, responsibility, perseverance, and curiosity and creativity throughout the week. You will certainly hear us singing our DAA cheer led by our light leaders and an exciting drum roll prior to Ms. Monge announcing which crew won for the week.

In order to fairly decide which crew wins we, as a staff, all use class dojo to track positive points when crews show certain habits of character. The class with the most points at the end of the week is our winner and has earned the bragging rights along with winning. Our students earn character contest points in many ways throughout the week such as having 100% participation in crew (responsibility), quick and quiet transitions in the hallway (integrity), or giving their best effort and not giving up on a test (perseverance). Each given point aligns directly to one of our six habits of character to celebrate when our kids show them together as a crew. These points can be given by their homeroom teacher or by another staff member who compliments the crew on their habits of character including at breakfast, lunch, and specials.

Each crew has won the character contest at least once this school year and it is quite exciting to watch the anticipation and excitement for the announcement each Friday afternoon. While only one class can win each week, it is so special to see other crews sending “shine” (one of our ways of celebrating others) to the winning crew. We hope that you can join us for one of our Friday community crews to see how proud our students are for their commitment to continuously building their character.


*If you would like to see how your child shows character throughout the week please connect with your child’s teacher and get connected on dojo! We’d love to have you connected!

Kindergarten // Brain Breaks

It’s no secret that kids love to move, dance, and play, and in such an action-packed day of learning, it’s essential to make sure students have the time and to release and channel their energy in a productive way. Brain Breaks are short breaks throughout the day that can do a variety of things: get students energized, help them to calm down and focus, provide a break in between activities, or simply bring joy into the classroom! Most teachers will tell you that their students are more productive, calmer, and more focused after a brain break, so we use them all the time at DAA!

In Kindergarten, we use two websites to help facilitate these Brain Breaks: GoNoodle and Cosmic Kids Yoga. GoNoodle is a website that has a compilation of videos that focus on exercise, song, dance, stretching, and mindfulness. Our Kindergarten Crew was selected to be a Classroom Ambassador this year, which means that we get to test out new GoNoodle videos and we also get to try out all of the GoNoodle Plus videos and extensions. We love all of the videos, but some are especially helpful to our brain growth, focus, and development. Some of our favorite silly dance videos are Pop-See-Ko, Whip/Nae Nae, and the Cupid Shuffle.

As a teacher, my favorite GoNoodle are the videos that sneakily combine some academic learning with movement and fun. For example, we start our Math lessons after lunch, and my Kindergarteners are always a bit more wiggly than they are in the morning. To channel some of that energy, I put on the Mega Math Marathon, where students have to run in place while answering math questions or Maximo the Magnificent, where students have to hold a challenging yoga pose while answering math questions. I love that kids are doing math and also having fun. I also love that I can customize questions related to the topics we are working on in math, so it flows nicely into our learning targets for the day.

Other than using brain breaks to get our wiggles out and have fun, we also use brain breaks to calm down, relieve stress, and refocus. GoNoodle has some videos that teach students different breathing strategies, such as a Snake Breath, Rainbow Breath, and Bee Breath. The videos use fun characters to teach students skills they can use if they are frustrated or upset, and I like to use them after we do a fun and energizing activity or when I notice students have a lot of energy and we need to focus on a new topic. We also use Cosmic Kids Yoga, which is a YouTube channel that teaches kids yoga poses with a fun theme and adventure tied in. We’ve gone on adventures to the ocean, to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, to outer space, to the desert, and to so many other places, all while learning new yoga poses that help stretch our body, and calm and focus our minds.

Both GoNoodle and Cosmic Kids Yoga are websites that can be accessed and used at home as well as at school. To sign up for a free GoNoodle account, simply go to and enter a parent’s e-mail address. To view free Cosmic Kids Yoga videos, go to or search “Cosmic Kids Yoga” on YouTube. Happy Brain Breaking!

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.