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

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

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