Mission: Dixon

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photoSay hello to my little friends. The kindergarteners at Dixon Educational Learning Academy are some of the most energetic, eager kids you’ll ever meet. And you’ll meet them, because they want to be your friends, too. Your mission — should you choose to accept it. And it’s not impossible, so don’t self-destruct on me yet.

Some context: One day in 2006, my dad was dutifully sporting his Summer in the City shirt at yoga when a woman inquired about the program. She turned out to be Diana Howard, the world’s best kindergarten teacher.

Ms. Howard teaches at Dixon, a K-8 Detroit public school nestled along the east side of the west side’s 1,200-acre Rouge Park. In the years since that prime yoga T-shirt product placement, Ms. Howard has enlisted and facilitated hundreds of volunteers in making Dixon a vibrant, beautiful learning environment.

Repair the World, a national Jewish service organization I have the privilege of directing in Detroit, doesn’t need hundreds of volunteers to grow our partnership with Dixon this year. We only need 100. And you’re one of them. So we only need 99. So far, so good.

Just what are you signing up for? Fair question. Those kindergarteners (your soon-to-be best friends) arrive at Dixon underprepared to learn all the wonderful things Ms. Howard and Ms. Evans have to teach them. Also, there are 60 of them. That’s where we come in.

We will have the enviable role of reading and learning one-on-one with the kindergarten crew this year.

At this point, you might be thinking two things, both of which are wrong:

1. My schedule does not permit this kind of commitment. Ah ha! There are some amazing mentoring and tutoring programs in Detroit whose weekly, ongoing requirements are, indeed, incompatible with your busy schedule. This is not one of those programs. Each of the 100 volunteers (you and the other 99) will “pledge” 10 reading visits to Dixon over the course of the school year. Then you can come when your schedule permits. More on that in a sec.

2. I’m not a teacher. Of course you are! You’re reading this right now, so we already know you have excellent taste and a willingness to indulge the non-linear thinking of a young mind. You’ll do great! Really, though, you’ll do great. And we’ll be there to make sure everything goes
swimmingly.

More context: Dixon is succeeding. In 2010, Dixon moved to its current location from a historic building a mile away to take over for the underperforming Lessenger Elementary-Middle School — combining students from two adjacent but distinct communities.

Dr. Ora Beard, a principal who makes Morgan Freeman (from Lean on Me) look like Mr. Belding (from Saved by the Bell), brought a dedicated staff and dynamic partnerships to turn around the school. And it’s been quite a turnaround. By one measure, Dixon climbed from a statewide ranking of 2,100 to 175. It’s now a top-20 Detroit school that the Michigan Department of Education uses as a model for their School Improvement Grants.

And you are a key to that continued success. Now the only question is, what kind of bird are you?

• The Early Bird. When you’re schedule permits, get your Seuss on at 8 a.m. before heading to work. Then you and your reading buddy are both bound to have a high-flying day.

• The Snow Bird. Has wintering in warmer environs (or hibernating) kept you from getting involved? No problem. We’ll see you this fall or when you get back in the spring — or both.

• The Do-Do Bird. Not to be confused with the Dodo, this beautiful, far-from-extinct species is so inspired by the experience that you lose track of the number of visits pledged and keep on do-doing great things with great books with great kids.

• The Raven. If you’re worried that some nevermore issue will come tapping at your chamber door, you need not be so weak and weary. Some volunteers will participate precisely as pledged and planned. Most of us will come more or less, and it will all aggregate into evermore excellent experiences for our fledgling friends.

• Flying V. Want to come with a group? Great — let’s carpool!

• The Loon. Me, too. I know the feeling when any commitment makes you lay an egg. Take a nudge out of the nest with us and you’ll be soaring in no time.

You in? Of course you are. Email ben@werepair.org or call me at (313) 3388-BEN and we’ll be birds of a feather.

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