The Opportunity Gap: Two Young Jewish Teachers Make A Difference In Detroit
Rachael Malerman, 25, began her third year as earth science and zoology teacher at the Detroit School of Arts, where she teaches ninth graders.
Malerman grew up in West Bloomfield but now lives in Detroit. She earned her master’s degree in education at the University of Michigan where she was a Woodrow Wilson teaching fellow, committed to teaching in low-income school districts.
“There is such an opportunity gap in our school system,” she says. “I felt I would be the most useful in Detroit.”
According to Malerman, although the school’s facilities are nice, “our test scores are still very low. It’s challenging to teach a wide range of students at varying reading levels. There have been staffing shortages and things like that, which makes it difficult to give attention to every student.”
Although she has witnessed a few fights, she’s never felt unsafe. She’s working on “restorative practices,” trying to create a community feel in the school. “I love getting to know all of my students; I am emotionally invested,” she says. “I can’t picture myself working anywhere else.”
Growing up at Temple Israel, she said, gave her a sense of giving back. “I feel a strong sense of pride in the Detroit Jewish community that influenced me to go into the city and work.”
Challenges abound, however. She says teachers had to take pay cuts and continue to have to buy their own classroom supplies, such as tissues and pencils. “It’s hard to keep people in this environment,” she said. “You see good people leave.”
Recently engaged, Malerman says that right now, she would not send her kids to school in Detroit. “It’s a hefty goal for one person, but I’d like to leave having this a place where I would send my kids,” she says. “But I don’t see that happening.”
Emily Phillips grew up in Farmington Hills and attended the University of Michigan for her undergraduate work and Wayne State University, where she earned her master’s in art and education. Phillips, single and 27, lives in Detroit and teaches chemistry and anatomy to 11th-graders at the University Preparatory Academy, a public charter school in the New Center area. This is her second year there.
“Education is key to success,” she says. “The resources you get in school you use for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, students in Detroit don’t get the same resources as those in Farmington Hills.”
More than half of the students at her school are eligible for free lunch, and many lack supplies or the transportation to come to school. “There are some kids ready, but many lack the background and skills they need to succeed,” she said. “I think a lot of my students will get into college, but they will likely have a tough time keeping up. Retention is going to be an issue.”
Phillips is a former Americorps volunteer for Repair the World and Eden Gardens Community Garden. She said her biggest challenge is “making sure the students get to where they need to go by helping them to build skills — not just spoonfeeding them information.”
Her students come from all over the city, she said. “I can relate to them. We see each other out in the community.”
Although she considers teachers at her school to be “well supported,” she still has to go out and purchase the supplies for her classroom. “I’ve tried to use technology as I can, with interactive computer programs and review games. But the computers are outdated, and we have trouble connecting to the internet.”
For a look back at the Jewish influence in Detroit Public Schools beginning in the 1960s, read “Dedication To Education,” written for the Intersection Project, which looks at the effects of the 1967 riots on modern day issues.