Heart of Detroit: Detroit Achievement Academy

School emphasizes expeditionary learning that is project based, very hands-on


DETROIT – This is a story of how a school grows in Detroit. Kyle Smitely was in the fashion business in California, had her own kids clothing line, then she visited a charter school in Chicago.

"I saw children there that were homeless, that were from very challenging backgrounds and they were more bright and charming and clever than I have ever been in my entire life, and I remember thinking that kids in Detroit need this as an option," said Smitely.

Smitely sold her business, returned to her midwest roots and found a perfect partner in Sharon Russer, an accomplished educator and literacy specialist.

"I definitely was skeptical like, 'Who is this girl and what does she know?' and I had some really kind of tough questions," said Russer.

They liked each others' answers. Next came the location.

"The response I got from the educational world were, 'Well, what kind of kids do you want?' and I remember thinking the ones that need the most help," said Smitely. "So everybody sort of unanimously said, 'Go to northwest Detroit, go to northwest Detroit.'"

The result is the Detroit Achievement Academy, which emphasizes expeditionary learning, project based, very hands-on. They even serve three healthy meals a day.

This year, it's just kindergarten and first grade, each year it will grow, and from the moment you visit, you feel the love of learning -- and that's no accident.

"We are going to spend our money on teachers," said Russer. "We are not going to listen to somebody who says you need to have the best technology in the classroom right now... We are going to get that eventually, but right now we need the amazing teachers."

"A lot of charter schools are run by charter management companies and they take a percentage of that. We are not. We are strictly not for profit school," said Smitely.

"Our goal is that our students will be performing on par or better than their suburban counterparts," Russer said.

It's a lofty and difficult goal, but worth it, they say.

"You know, you wake up at 5 a.m. to go pick the kids up, you know, and you are dragging them from their parents and it is still dark out," said Smitely.

"Did you say you pick the kids up?" asked Mitch Albom.

"On the bus yeah we'll ride on the bus," said Smitely.

"So you will go ride with them?"

"I do ride the bus every morning," Smitely said.

You hope the energy and dreams of Kyle Smitely and Sharon Russer transfer to the young students, pumping new life into the heart of Detroit.

Heart of Detroit