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April 30, 2012
After the announcement of yet another Detroit school closure, last week more than 100 students at Western International High School held a walkout to protest the deteriorating state of their school system. As a consequence, Detroit Public Schools suspended each student who left school for five days. On Friday, students took it upon themselves to start a “Freedom School” to continue their education despite the suspensions.
The Freedom School is a student-run project with students, professors and community leaders volunteering to teach on a variety of topics including civil rights, art and hip hop. “We were thrown out of school for fighting for an equal education and we’re doing this to show we’re still going to be learning even if we got kicked out school,” said junior Raychel Gafford.
Although Western is not under threat of closure at the present time, nearby Southwestern High will be closing this year. As a result, many of Southwestern’s students will be sent to Western’s already overcrowded classrooms. Down the road, Southwestern’s building will possibly be turned into a for-profit charter school. “Schools are not supposed to be ran as businesses, education is a long term investment. We should not be making money off our students,” said Gafford.
Elena Herrada, a member of the Detroit school board, expressed admiration for the students’ plight. “The students have tremendous community support. This is what creates leadership – the crisis,” she said.
So far the school appears to be thriving, if its Facebook page is an indication. Community members are offering the students assistance in the form of food, supplies and knowledge. People can also keep tabs on the Freedom School’s schedule on its Twitter account.
Steve Wasko, a spokesperson for Detroit Public Schools said that students’ claims that schools are overcrowded and lacking in supplies are “untrue,” adding, “To have adults encouraging students to skip school is irresponsible and pathetic.”
“We had to walk out today because we have nowhere else to go. All of these cuts being made across the city are coming without any input from the students,” countered suspended student Natalie Rivers. “We will be heard even if it takes walking out of school.”
Rivers’s peer Brandon Sandoval echoed her sentiment. “We shouldn’t have to fight to keep our schools open, we shouldn’t have to fight for better schools, we shouldn’t have to fight for a quality education. But because of the greed and corruption of those in power, we are forced to fight for it all.”
Perhaps these teenagers are demonstrating a higher commitment to education than the Detroit school system itself.
Photo Credit: Freedom School’s Tumblr Page