A Summer Education at Brookside

Summer school. Those two words usually make most children cringe—who wants to spend their summer vacation studying and attending classes? Sheer morbid curiosity made me explore further a few folders in Brookside School Records, a collection just opened for research last month. What I found was not the usual story.

The Brookside summer school program, AWAKE, had a different purpose than remedial education for elementary students. Developed in 1968 by Pontiac Elementary Principal Jim Hawkins and Brookside Headmaster John P. Denio, it was designed to promote harmony and understanding amongst young children who might not otherwise share life experiences due to racial, social, and economic segregation.

AWAKE followed on the heels of the “long hot summer” of 1967, which saw civil unrest in Detroit and cities across Michigan, including Pontiac, due to long-standing racial inequalities for Black Americans. Instituted in 1968, AWAKE’s purpose was to “bring together young children in essentially two segregated school areas,” in some ways foreshadowing the desegregation of Pontiac and Detroit schools in the early 1970s.

Roughly fifty children split their time equally between the Bloomfield Hills and Pontiac schools for five mornings a week, over a four-week period in July and August. Co-sponsored by Cranbrook’s Brookside School and Pontiac Public Schools’ Bethune and Whittier Elementary Schools, the program included art projects, field trips, swimming, reading, and other enrichment activities for kindergarten-age children in both communities. Directed at young children because of their natural receptiveness at that age, Denio believed that,

With AWAKE, children four through six, through work and play activities and through simple, open contact with each other may perhaps develop the knowledge and understanding necessary to reinforce their acceptance of each other as human beings.

Governed by a Board comprised of community members and Pontiac Public School administrators and teachers, the program was self-sustained through tuition fees (waived in cases of need), financial contributions, and community support. Christ Church Cranbrook, for example, played a significant role through both donations and parishioners’ participation in the program. Familiar Cranbrook names, such as Cranbrook School teacher and Horizons-Upward Bound founder, Ben Snyder, and his wife Margot were also regular advocates of the program.

Borrowing lyrics from Rogers and Hammerstein and with photographs by Jack Kausch, poster displays sum up AWAKE’s ethos: “Getting to know you … Getting to know all about you … Getting to like you … Getting to hope you like me.” Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

A grass roots experiment in creative problem-solving of the urban crisis faced by cities across the country, AWAKE only lasted for five years (1968-1972). Because of its short duration, the effectiveness of the program was never fully appreciated, despite a 1969 study conducted by a University of Michigan Ph.D. student in education and social sciences and regular solicitation of teacher and parent feedback. Ultimately, rising costs and a lack of grant money; shortages of staff; and dwindling enrollment, undoubtedly due in part to the integration of Pontiac schools and the unsettling atmosphere of anti-busing protests, prohibited the continuation of the program.  

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Science Projects

Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS) has long held a special place in the hearts of many area schoolchildren. Field trips, weekend family outings, and onsite demonstrations in schools and community centers are a part of the fabric of the metro Detroit K-12 educational experience.

Elementary students visit the Cranbrook Institute of Science in 1935. Robert T. Hatt, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

A recent discovery in our collections furthered my appreciation of the Institute’s educational outreach and its commitment to ensuring access to the world of science for all its surrounding communities. It all started with the folder titled “Pontiac Area Urban League, 1988” in the Institute of Science Director’s Records.

The Pontiac Area Urban League (PAUL), was founded in 1950 as an affiliate of the National Urban League. An integral part of PAUL’s mission was to improve educational opportunities for underserved residents. Through its Education Committee, they partnered with Pontiac Public Schools in the 1980s to empower students of color to seek equity in science and math education by providing real-world role models and encouraging parent involvement. In 1988 this effort took the form of a project that focused specifically on middle school students and lead PAUL to approach Cranbrook Institute of Science. The resulting partnership formed the basis of CIS’s relationship with students in the School District of the City of Pontiac that continues to this day.

A visiting school group, 1966. Robert T. Hatt, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Correspondence in the CIS Director’s Records suggests that CIS had already been considering educational outreach efforts to Pontiac residents. Janet M. Johnson, Director of Education, states in a 1988 memo to Director Robert M. West regarding the possible partnership with PAUL: “This may be another avenue for us to pursue interests with Pontiac.” West expresses his “delight” a few months later in a letter addressed to PAUL’s Interim Director, Jaqueline Washington:

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The Power of Knowledge

In commemoration of this significant day, Juneteenth, I thought we’d look back at one of many compelling stories in Cranbrook’s history. In the summer of 1970, Horizons-Upward Bound (HUB) offered four new electives that reflected the experimental nature of a project in its sixth year of operation. These electives allowed for innovation and creative thought around topics of particular relevancy to HUB students, investigating issues that still resonate fifty years later.

1969 HUB student photo used on the inside cover of the 1970-1971 annual report. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Black Creative Writing, taught by Highland Park Community College English instructor Stephen D. Chennault, involved readings, examinations of concepts, and self-directed writing. Students surveyed a Langston Hughes edited short story collection and works by the Black Arts Movement poet, Don L. Lee (later known as Haki Madhubuti). They also explored Black awareness, the role of the Black professional writer, and created skits centered on Black life, in what Chennault describes as a “careful observation of their niche in today’s America.”

The Black Contributions course was co-taught by Wayne State University interns, Ervin Brinker and Fred Massey, and grew out of the Black History course of the two previous summers. Refocused with a more contemporary slant, students studied organizations such as the Black Panther Party, the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Reporting on the course, Brinker and Massey observed that “both instructors and students were sensitized to the realization that solutions to racial problems are imbedded in institutional living patterns of long standing, protected by mazes of barrier that must be recognized and understood if they are to be nullified.”

George W. Crockett Jr., 1968. Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library.

Law was team taught by Detroit attorney Michael Brady and University of Wisconsin law student Norman Prance. Half of class time focused on criminal law, which included examination of Yale Sociology Professor Albert J. Reiss’ 1967 study of police brutality and discussion of the Wayne County Juvenile Court. The subject culminated in a field trip to the Detroit Recorders Courtroom of Judge George Crockett Jr., a civil rights advocate known for confronting the practice of race-based sentencing.

Ben Snyder and Horizons scholarship students, 1968. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In the course, Power, developed by HUB founder and director Ben M. Snyder, students explored the idea of power through a combination of contemporary theory and current realities. Stemming from two works: Adolf Berle’s 1969 Power and Nathan Wright’s 1968 Black Power and Urban Unrest, the course addressed complicated regional situations, such as the redistricting of Detroit schools. When replying to a question regarding the value of the course to his future, one student remarked, “As long as I am more aware of the American way of working power, it should make me more alert.”

Cover illustration by David McMurray for The HUB 101 Literary Magazine, 4 (Summer 1970). Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

A tradition since 1967, the Literary Magazine, a sampling of writing and art produced by HUB students, is perhaps the most important summation of the student experience. Against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, national Vietnam War protests, and the beginnings of an economic downturn that would hit the Detroit metro area hard, the Summer 1970 issue reflects powerful emotions. It’s clear to see that these four thought-provoking electives left a profound effect on students’ views of American society and their role in it. With titles like Discrimination, Revolution, Black Power, Choice of Colors, The Man, The Militant, and Pride, the poignancy of their voices is striking and remarkably germane to events, both then and today.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Archives Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

The Skyline is a Promise

Cranbrook Archives houses an impressive collection of motion picture films, many of which offer depictions of student life at Cranbrook Schools. These films uniquely capture what it was actually ‘like’ to be on campus at a given moment in time, and potentially present perspectives not captured in official written documentation. One such film, The Skyline is a Promise, from the Horizons-Upward Bound Records, is an excellent example.

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Filming on Cranbrook School campus, 1966. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The Horizons-Upward Bound (HUB) program, then in its 2nd year, was self-described as “An Experimental Enrichment Program.” In conjunction with representatives from Detroit Public Schools and Oakland County Schools, the program’s objective was to provide low-income Detroit area high school students with opportunities for future success in academics and in life. The creation of Cranbrook School teacher, Ben Snyder, who served as its director for twenty-four years, HUB was the only program of its kind at that time.

Skyline was produced, directed, and filmed by Wayne State University Audio-Visual Productions during the summer of 1966, and was intended both as a promotional piece and an educational aid. The 16-minute short film captured every aspect of the program. Raymond Maloney, a HUB English instructor from Cranbrook School, wrote of the experience in the 1966 Annual Report: “At times, the dining hall, classrooms or dormitories took on all the aspects of a movie set complete with eighty-eight willing actors.” Students not only were eager participants in front of the camera but also learned about what was involved behind the camera, thanks to one of the film’s producers.

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Wayne State University film crew, 1966. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Funding for the film was provided by an anonymous donor, supplemented by funds from the program’s Ford Foundation grant. According to a May 25, 1966 letter, the script was written by George H. Bouwman, Director of Development, Horace Mann School, Bronx, NY. The soundtrack was a mix of guitar music, sound effects, and voice-overs from both the narrator and student interviews, also conducted by the film crew. The film’s title was taken from The Wanderer of Liverpool by John Masefield, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom (1930-1967):

Go forth to seek: the quarry never found

Is still a fever to the questing hound

The skyline is a promise, not a bound.

Beginning in the Summer of 1967, the film was circulated for a $5 rental fee throughout the U.S. (with accompanying report) to other independent schools considering establishing a similar program. Made at the suggestion of the National Association of Independent Schools, it was shown in its first year at 36 member schools in 18 states, 6 school conferences across the country, and 14 other organizations including the Education Departments of Wayne State University and the University of Michigan.

That same summer saw a watershed moment in Detroit history: civil unrest with profound ramifications for the city’s inhabitants, which included sixty Horizon students and their families. A full page in HUB’s 1967 Annual Report expresses appreciation to those who particularly helped navigate the complexities of the situation, including Detroit educators, clergy, business leaders, and local figures, such as Detroit Tigers player Al Kaline. Cranbrook would continue to have ties to Detroit institutions through its HUB program, like the relationship it formed with New Detroit in 1968. This summer, HUB will celebrate its 55th anniversary, remaining an important link between Cranbrook and its Metro Detroit neighbors.

Fifty-four years later, Skyline transcends its original intent and gives us a window into the experiences of a specific group of students at Cranbrook during a tumultuous time in our region’s history. The film, like many others in the Archives, is currently undergoing review for reformatting to digital media for access and preservation of the originals, so that their stories are not lost to future generations.

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

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