Culture

Stories by Sara E. Teller
Photos by Bernie Laframboise

Statement from the Superintendent
Dr. Daveda Colbert

The City of Oak Park is a great place to live, eat, and work. It also provides amazing learning opportunities for students of all ages. Oak Park schools truly provide a great educational experience for students with various abilities. The goal is for all students to reach their full potential. We are closing the opportunity gap. We are working daily to increase student achievement while providing exposure and opportunity that removes barriers that hinder success. Oak Park schools has a caring and committed workforce, as well as very dedicated employee partners. We also have a very supportive resident and business community.

As a resident of Oak Park since 2003 and the proud Superintendent since December 2010, Oak Park is the place I call home. Here are a few of our accomplishments throughout my tenure:

■ Increased enrollment from 3,100 to 5,100 students from December 2010
to December 2017.
■ Inherited a $8 million deficit in December 2010, and as of the June 2017 audit, the district has a $14 million surplus.
■ Passed Sinking Fund Renewal for 20 Years.
■ Award-winning marching band, drum line, and step team which includes students involved in these activities at elementary, middle, and high school levels.
■ Award-winning choral programs at each level with stand-out performances from Pepper Choir, Oak Park Voices of Inspiration, and Oak Park High School Choir.
■ Award-winning underwater robotics at all schools (elementary, middle, and high school).
■ “Three-Peat” State Championship Division I Girls Track & Field Team, also national champions.
■ State Championship Division I Boys Track & Field Team, also national champions.
■ Infused technology at all levels to establish 21st Century Learning Environments at elementary, middle, and high school level.
■ Partnership with St. Johns Providence Health Systems and opened a school-based health clinic in OPHS.
■ GSRP (Great Start Readiness Programs — Pre-School for four-year-olds) in all three elementary schools.
■ Two Alternative Learning Programs and One Virtual Program – Options for all students, which includes a career-based high school program, a second-chance program, and an online program to meet the needs of all students.
■ A number of Wade McCree Scholars and Gates Millennium Scholarship finalists and winners.
■ A number of students taking Advanced Placement classes at Oak Park High School and CASA (Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts).
■ Great partnership that works with the City of Oak Park (Mayor Marian McClellan, City Manager Erik Tungate, Oak Park Public Safety Director Steve Cooper, and many more elected officials and department heads).

Notable District Highlights
Oak Park Preparatory Academy Students Share Their Poetry

On Wednesday, June 7, 2017, Oak Park Preparatory Academy (OPPA) released their fourth volume of poetry, entitled, “Words Ain’t No Walk in the Park.” The book was written entirely by OPPA students, and published by the InsideOut Literary Arts Project. InsideOut is Detroit’s largest literary arts non-profit and Oak Park Schools has had the honor of working with the non-profit for four consecutive years. Since 1995, InsideOut has helped more than 50,000 Detroit youth express themselves through the written word. The InsideOut Poetry Gala featured OPPA students reciting their work, and staff sharing some of their favorite selections from the book.

Elementary School Students Help to Feed the Hungry
Einstein Elementary and Key Elementary students recently participated in the “Change the World with Onigiri Project” under the guidance of world language teacher, Ms. Yukliko Fujiwara.

The program was coordinated by Table for Two (TFT), which originated in Japan. TFT is an international non-profit organization that aims to solve the program of unbalanced food distribution between the U.S. and development countries. Each year, TFT spearheads the World Food Day campaign with the goal to deliver one million meals to children in need. Oak Park elementary school students helped to feed children in Africa by making onigiri, a rice ball, which is considered a traditional, healthy snack in Japan. Photos of the onigiri made by students were posted to TFT’s website. For every photo posted, the sponsor companies donated five hot meals to a child in Africa.

21st Century Learning: Pepper, Key & Einstein Elementary Schools and Preparatory Academy
Pepper, Key and Einstein Elementary Students, as well as those at Oak Park Preparatory Academy will find their classrooms fully equipped with 21st Century learning tools when they return on Tuesday, August 29, 2018. Interactive projection screens called Promethean Boards, and laptop carts will be available. These tools are designed to keep students engaged while enhancing their technology skills and overall learning environments.

Alternative Education Center Students Gain Real World Experience
The Oak Park Alternative Education Center is open to students ages 15 to 21 who are seeking a high school diploma. Basic vocational skills are also offered to prepare students for a future career path. Enrollment is Monday- Friday from 8:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M., and is offered throughout the entire school year. All academic courses are facilitated by certified teachers. Some recent student initiatives include:

Staff Lunch Project
Alternative Education Center Culinary Arts students launched a Staff Lunch project. The project is designed to help the students gather important information about starting their own business. Students go to each staff member and present a menu for the day. Each student rotates to the lead cook position weekly. The lead cook directs the flow of the kitchen and assigns the job responsibilities to others. After the meals are prepared, a select number of students deliver them to the staff. The goal is to teach students basic catering techniques.

Video/Music Production Students: Interactive Video Project
The Video/Music Production students teamed up with Everest Institute of Southfield to create an interactive video. Three students were selected to go to the campus with camera equipment. The final product will allow potential Everest students to take a virtual tour through the campus.

Building Trades Students Given Hands-On Training
Building Trades students are working on a project that allows them the opportunity to use the tools of each trade to find what he or she has a natural inclination towards pursuing. The joining of each component that brings the units together gives the students hands-on experience producing a functional product. The Building Trades students also visited the Detroit Electrical Industrial Center. The center provides a paid on-site apprenticeship program and classroom training. Student Khalil Brown, who was identified as qualified for the program, stated this is the most fun in school he has ever had.

Oak Park Schools, a school-of-choice district, has more than 5,000 students. Oak Park is a school-of-choice district. Students must be a resident of Oakland, Macomb, or Wayne Counties, between the grades of Pre-K-12, to attend.
• Einstein Elementary School (Pre-K-5) 14001 Northend St 248-336-7640
• Key Elementary School (Pre-K-5) 23400 Jerome Street 248-336-7610
• Pepper Elementary School (Pre-K-5) 24301 Church Street 248-336-7680
• Oak Park Preparatory Academy (6-8) 23261 Scotia Street 248-336-7620
• Oak Park Freshman Institute (9th Grade only) 22180 Parklawn St 248-336-7780
• Oak Park High School (10-12) 13701 Oak Park Blvd. 248-336-7740
• OP Alternative Education Center (Ages 15-21) 12901 Albany Street 248-291-6722

Story by Sara E. Teller
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Oak Park High School is a secondary learning environment nestled in the heart of the City of Oak Park. A community of educators proudly serves the diverse needs of the student body and functions as a professional
learning community with data teams as our nucleus,” said High School Principal Charity Jones.

Oak Park High has received its fair share of notable recognition and awards. In 2017, the high school was recognized as a model . Only approximately 200 schools nationwide and in Canada receive this honor. “PLCs are schools and districts in which educators recognize the key to improved learning for students is on-going, job-embedded learning for the adults who serve those students,” Jones explained. Educators focus on learning, build a collaborative culture, and create a results orientation.

“By functioning as a professional learning community, implementing the data team process, and focusing on continuous school improvements over the next few years we will have a data-driven culture that focuses on meeting students’ individual learning needs,” Jones said. “It is our goal to build positive relationships, to cultivate a healthy and safe learning environment where all faculty and staff are using data to inform decisions and exercise accountability across the board to ensure increased student achievement for all.”

As the high school evolves to meet the expectations of a professional learning community, faculty and staff will prepare fully connected, college, career, and global-ready graduates that will successfully pursue and attain their post-secondary aspirations. Graduates will be fully college and career-ready when their high school experience culminates.

“It is our unique school structure, college preparatory education, fine and performing arts, co-curricular and athletic opportunities that build community and lead our students on a pathway to excellence,” Jones added. “Our students also have the opportunity to pursue coursework at Oakland Schools Technical Campus and the Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts. They participate in cooperative internships at William Beaumont Hospital, participate in work-based programs in the community, engage in career days, network with professionals in the Detroit Economic Club Academy and the Women of Tomorrow program. They also obtain technical training in robotics, engineering, health occupations, forensic science, theatre production, music, art, choir, band, Wayne State University C2 Pipeline, etc., to strengthen skills, cultivate talents, and engage in deep learning.”

In addition to relevant content material and extended learning opportunities, students will experience the rigor of curriculum aligned with the common core standards, advanced placement courses, honor classes, dual enrollment, test preparation for state and national examinations, and character education. “Our fundamental purpose is to ensure that all students learn at high levels and develop academic and social skills to prepare them for college or a career,” Jones explained.
Oak Park High has a uniform set of values that educators abide by. These include:

– Building Relationships and Community
– Prioritizing Learning with High Expectations
– Taking Ownership and Being Accountable

“To accomplish our purpose, we focus on capturing kids’ hearts, while functioning as a PLC with data teams as our nucleus. We believe that consistency and intentional efforts to uphold the shared values will help us accomplish our purpose,” Jones said.

The Knights in Shining Armor – Oak Park High Athletics
The Oak Park High School Knights are co-champions of the Oakland Activities Football Association White Division, along with Farmington Harrison and Birmingham Groves. They are also 2017 MHSAA District Champions. Coach Greg Carter and the athletic staff led the students to victory.

Oak Park High School’s Boys and Girls Track Teams are defending Division I State Champions and demonstrated that on May 11, 2017, at the OAA Gold Championship held at Oak Park High. The girls track team were finalists in the Division I State Championship. Four Oak Park High School All American Track Student Athletes signed letters of intent on college signing day: Cameron Cooper; Louisiana State University. Tamea McKelvy; University of Texas. Bryce Pickett; University of Michigan. Carlita Taylor; Columbia University.

Marching Band Making Its Mark
Oak Park Schools Marching Legion was the big winner at Flint Hamady High School’s “Battle of the Bands” competition on September 23, 2017, claiming victory over marching bands from six schools in the State of Michigan. The Marching Legion swept all six major categories, winning first place trophies in Overall Auxiliary, Overall Drum Major, Overall Drumline, Overall Music, Class A Band, and Overall Grand Champions. “The band’s motto is ‘Enthusiasm is the Key.’ When we are performing, we must always be enthusiastic about it. We believe that by embracing our motto we are able to offer performances everyone can enjoy and appreciate wholeheartedly,” said Mr. Virgil Goodwine, Band Director of the Marching Legion.

Notable Staff Achievement
Ms. Kathryn Locano, Oak Park High’s ELA Curriculum Coordinator; Young, Optimistic, and United student organization (Y.O.U.) sponsor; and teacher leader, was presented with the prestigious ‘Power of One’ Award at the Tri-Community Coalition’s 19th annual Leadership Breakfast held on December 8, 2017.

The non-profit Coalition’s mission is to prevent substance abuse in the surrounding cities. Locano was recognized for her commitment to excellence in education, for being an impactful, caring and servant leader, and a long-time sponsor of Y.O.U. Y.O.U. is a student-led club that discusses and addresses issues students face in the school, including mental health difficulties, drugs, bullying, and distracted driving, among others.

Mayor Marian McClellan Visits Oak Park High
Oak Park High School students recently engaged in STEM-based fun during C2 Pipeline’s Lights on After-school Event. Wayne State University’s C2 Pipeline is an afterschool program that is funded through the Michigan Department of Education to be a 21st Century Community Learning Center.

C2 Pipeline has been shown to boost students’ grades in math and English a quarter higher by the end of the school year. All high school students are eligible to participate in the program. C2 Pipeline’s Lights on Afterschool Event takes place annually, and offers a way for students to showcase to the Oak Park community how the program truly enriches their learning. Oak Park Mayor Marian McClellan participated to show her support of the students.

Ascension St. John Providence Provides In-School Student Care
Ascension St. John Providence has partnered with Oak Park School District to improve access to healthcare for the students and Oak Park community at large. The school-based health center services students ages 5-21 years irrespective of insurance coverage. The health center is staffed with Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner Tammie S. Williams, Registered Medical Assistant Krystal Williams, and Licensed Mental Health Counselor Darryl Allen.

Students receive a multitude of health services, including yearly physical exams, sports physicals, vaccines, acute care visits, minor sports injury care, vision and hearing screens and screening for sexually transmitted infections. Also available are programs for health promotion and risk reduction, and mental health counseling including substance abuse and behavior therapy for individuals and groups. Written parental consent is needed for all students under the age of 18. The center hours are 7:30 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Walk-ins are accepted but appointments are preferred.

Story by Sara E. Teller

The Berkley School District includes all of Berkley, Huntington Woods and a portion of Oak Park. The District schools inside of Oak Park city limits are Norup International School, a K-8 school, and Berkley Building Blocks childcare centers (Avery and Tyndall). “Children in the Berkley School District boundaries attend neighborhood schools.

Norup serves students who live in Oak Park, and some Schools of Choice students, for elementary school,” explained Berkley Schools Communications Director Jessica Stilger. She added, “Its middle school, which includes grades 6 through 8, combines Oak Park residents with those from Huntington Woods. This school is very diverse in its student body socio-economically, racially, and religiously. The school is a current International Baccalaureate school.”

Norup is known for reaching all learners, and the District has a goal overall to create pathways for students to achieve their personal best, whatever that looks like for each student.

“In elementary school, students excel at their own level using Cultures of Thinking and Reading and Writing Workshop models to enhance their literacy skills to improve comprehension in all subjects,” Stilger said. “Students are exposed to weekly art, vocal music, technology, physical education. And in 5th grade students have the option to participate in instrumental music, and attend camp with all other 5th-graders in the District.”

When they reach middle school, Stilger said “students can explore robotics, foreign languages, journalism, and various music options, just to name a few. In addition, many students complete high school credits while attending Norup, and 8th-grade students complete a year-long, in-depth community research project. Middle school students can participate in an extensive list of athletics and clubs like swimming, football, cross country, basketball, skiing, tennis, track and field, book club, student newspaper and more.”

THERE ARE ALSO EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT CENTERS designed to cater to families in Berkley as well as surrounding neighborhoods, including those in Oak Park. “Berkley Building Blocks serves students six-weeks-old through age five. The two centers collectively have infant, toddler and preschool classrooms that run both school-year and year-round schedules. The center houses state and federally funded preschool classrooms, including Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) and Head Start. Enrollment for Building Blocks is not limited to Berkley School District boundaries. In Fall 2018, the two buildings will combine into one childcare center at Avery, after extensive work completes over the summer due to a 2015 Bond passage,” Stilger said.

Over 300 students in total enroll in the various Berkley Building Blocks programs each year. “Our centers are known for being high-quality, accredited care centers, dedicated to nurturing, growing and loving each student,” Stilger explained. “Building Blocks forms strong family connections, encourages family involvement, hosts three parent/teacher conference sessions each year with all age levels and brings in-house field trips in many times each year to bring the outside world in.”

Last year, a Norup student robotics team placed first in the state for their pothole-fixing robot. The students went on to participate in the World competition and placed 4th. A Building Blocks staff member also presented at a national early childhood conference this past Fall.

The biggest charitable initiative Berkley schools are involved in is the Caring & Sharing program run by the Berkley Area PTSA Council. This program is in its 37th year, and each school, including Norup, Avery and Tyndall, work together to collect breakfast foods, canned goods, peanut butter and jelly and any monetary donations. Food and money collection starts in November and wraps in December with hundreds of district families receiving food for the holiday season.

“Berkley School District schools are always giving back to the community,” said Stilger.

Story by Sara E. Teller

Ferndale Public Schools is made up of portions of four communities – Ferndale, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, and Royal Oak Township,” explains Bill Good, Director of Communications and Pupil Services. “For many Oak Park residents, Ferndale Schools is actually their home district – many Oak Park residents don’t realize this.” As a ‘Schools of Choice’ district, Ferndale also welcomes students from Oak Park who are not assigned but wish to attend.

Ferndale Schools offers an intimate, interconnected environment for its educators, students, and families. “Ferndale offers a hometown, small school atmosphere that gives parents, students, and teachers, and community an opportunity to really get to know one another,” Good said. “The district is large enough to provide a wide range of curricular and extra-curricular offerings, but small enough to maximize student participation and maintain a community feel.”

Ferndale Schools has created a curriculum and school culture centered around each child’s age, developmental milestones, and specific needs. “It is a focused approach on the whole child that facilitates growth academically, emotionally, socially, and physically,” Good explains, adding, “Collaboration between children, teachers, parents, and community members creates a community of learners and a purposeful learning environment.”

The District uses social and emotional learning (SEL), the process through which both children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions; set and achieve positive goals; feel and show empathy for others; establish and maintain positive relationships; and make responsible decisions. This concept that is rooted in the schools’ ‘whole-child’ philosophy has been recognized at both the state and national levels, and has been adapted by other districts.

Good poses the question, “What do we mean when we say educating the whole child? We recognize that learning is about more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. We are dedicated to educating and nurturing the entire child, so each student grows into a purposeful, lifelong learner. Our talented educators have developed a guiding framework that is integrated into the classroom every day which teaches social and emotional development skills and the benefits are clear – academic achievement increases, students feel more confident, and teachers have more time to teach.”

FERNDALE IS ALSO KNOWN FOR ITS HIGH SCHOOL IMPI ROBOTICS TEAM, which has qualified for the national championships the past two years. The Impi Warriors recently took it upon themselves to help spread STEM education across the globe, fundraising for the development of a new robotics team in Ghana. The FHS Football Team also made the playoffs for the second straight year in a row.

High school senior Jacob Keener recently received notoriety as one of just a handful of students nationwide who achieved a perfect score on both the ACT and SAT test, and senior Matt Ballard and Junior Donovan Pitts-Reed qualified for the state championship wrestling meet. Student athletes Jacob Keener and John Stellard were selected from a pool of more than 4,200 nominees to be among 16 finalists awarded the Michigan High School Athletic Association Scholar Athlete (MHSAA) award. Students continue to excel at sports, academics, and extra-curriculars each school year.

The District also has some innovative plans in the making to promote educational growth. “With the explosive growth in technology the days of the traditional ‘library’ or ‘media center’ are past,” Good explains. “Last year, Ferndale Schools began our transition away from the old model and transformed half of the FHS Media Center into ‘The Nest’.” The Nest is a flexible learning space that teachers can reserve for small group projects and instruction. The tables and chairs in The Nest are all on wheels and can be moved and reconfigured to fit the needs of the teacher or groups of students. The Nest is also home to a mobile smart board which allows students or teachers to plug in their devices and share their display. The project was funded by a generous donation of ‘The Profit’ Marcus Lemonis and NBC/Universal who visited Ferndale Schools last year.

For an illustration of school assignments by area, please visit FerndaleSchools.org and click on the district map. Residents interested in joining Ferndale Schools through the Schools of Choice program can apply from March 13 to August 3 by calling 248-586-8686.

Story by Ingrid Sjostrand
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Most people admit that they wouldn’t get very far in life without the support of their friends, and the Oak Park Public Library is no exception.

The Friends of the Library, since 1992, is a non-profit organization that has helped back programming, raise funds and make improvements to the Oak Park Library since the 1950s, all at no cost to taxpayers. “We could not do any of the things we do without the Friends,” says Brandon Bowman, director of the Oak Park Library. “Ninety-nine per cent of our funding comes from the Friends organization, they are our main fund raiser.”

Everything from providing prizes and books for the summer reading program to running fundraisers and book fairs fall under the realm of support the Friends offer. Typically, Bowman provides them with a list each June of ten initiatives or programs he wants to implement that year, and the organization chooses which they will fund or give supplies for.

“They help us fund some of the initiatives that the Library staff come up with. The ”Raspberry Pis” (tiny computers used for teaching) are a good example – they just went out and bought those for us. I go to the Friends and say ‘I’d like to buy five Raspberry Pis to start teaching scratch gaming coding in the Library, can you help me out?’ and they provide us with those things,” he says.

Today, the Friends of the Library have over 200 members and are always looking for more support. Individuals can join for a membership fee of $10 that goes directly toward supporting the Library, and you don’t have to be an Oak Park resident to join.

Surprisingly, the Friends have been by the Library’s side since before they had a physical building. In the early 1950s, the Oak Park Library was run out of a bookmobile, and the Friends raised over $24,000 by requesting supplies, furniture and funds door-to-door in Oak Park neighborhoods. As a result, the Library opened the doors to their building at 14300 Oak Park Blvd in 1958, and are still located there. The Friends continue to help with renovations too, supporting remodels in 1968 and 2011.

“Right now, they are trying to find community sponsors for the wishing well – the Ferndale Library has a wishing well and we are trying to do the same thing here – which would allow us to get some more passive funding for things,” Bowman says. “They are going around asking local businesses if they are willing to put money toward that.”

Members meet the second Monday of each month. In February at the Oak Park Winterfest, the Friends of the Library held a membership drive and are still looking for more volunteers for a 60th birthday of the Oak Park Library event in June.

“I know they need tons of volunteers for the birthday party, so we are trying to get people for that. And of course, they are always looking for help coming up with new innovative ways to do fundraising to help the Library out,” Bowman says. “The more people we can get involved with Friends the better.”

Anyone interested in joining the Friends of the Library can fill out an application at the Oak Park Library, through the Library web site, or by emailing: friends.oakparklibrary@gmail.com
or visit oppl.org/friends

By Mary Meldrum

The brain-child of Oak Park resident Doug Craig, the nonprofit organization Fathers Being Involved, was launched in Pepper Elementary in September of 2015. Craig’s previous involvement with a fatherhood organization in Detroit at the Children’s Center led him to recognize that there was a missing fatherhood component, when he enrolled his son in kindergarten in Oak Park. Doug Craig asked Principal Emanuel Haley if he knew of any structured fatherhood initiatives in Oak Park. Haley’s reaction conveyed that Craig’s timing
was very good.

“Mr. Craig, just last night I had five mothers who have children with discipline issues who approached me for help. I can’t do this by myself,” said Haley. “Yes, I need your support.” That was all Craig needed, and he fired up a plan to connect people with purpose. “I work in divine purpose, and every time I work with this drive it works out perfectly in the right moment,” shared Craig.

DOUG CRAIG EVOLVED FROM a marketing director in the music industry to connect fathers with their children. He does this by connecting them with the Oak Park schools and within the community. Fathers Being Involved (FBI for short) has attracted approximately 280 fathers since its inception. Their mission is to create stronger fathers, stronger families, and stronger communities.

Fathers Being Involved is partnered with schools to help create a safer and more positive overall school environment. They also look to expose students to positive images and actions of men. They do this by encouraging fathers to play a more active role in their child’s education. They also help fathers find ways to support the efforts of teachers.

Craig serves as the Executive Director and co-founder of the FBI organization, and acts as the outreach spokesperson. He also serves as co-chair of the Wayne County System of Care Community Outreach where they reach out to various cultures. Craig sees the fatherhood piece in need of support and reinforcement in every culture in Detroit.

Craig gives big praise to the City of Oak Park –and in particular, Mayor Marian McClellan – and Mr. Haley of Pepper Elementary for the spirit and the early insight to ignite a fatherhood organization that supports and promotes its members. Because of the success of the FBI program in Oak Park, Craig reports that they are initiating a pilot program with Detroit Public Schools, as well as a couple of charter schools.

Oak Park is the heart and center of this operation; every-thing for the FBI program is birthed out of the city. In conjunction with the FBI initiatives, Craig is looking into having Oak Park host a fatherhood festival this coming Summer.

ONE OF THE GREAT SUCCESSES for Fathers Being Involved program is an event called the “Morning Roll & Go.” Men are stationed outside Pepper Elementary school in the morning, opening doors for women and children. Church Street, next to the school, was a congested raceway in the morning and afternoon. The fathers help with the traffic flow on Church Street. Fathers take the lead role in demonstrating how to be gentlemen.

They model good behavior, organize, and keep things moving along. Their presence calms the chaos and puts extra adult eyes and ears amongst the children adding a layer of security in the school drop off-process.

Fathers in the Morning Roll & Go interact with the kids. They ask about and encourage kids to achieve grades and complete homework; often stepping in to be the “community father” for all the children. They genuinely invest in the children and show them how to be little ladies and gentlemen.

Fathers Being Involved also get involved with the discipline of the troublemakers and encourage all the children to go forth in their day with upbeat attitude and self-esteem. Craig himself had conversations with one parent about vulgar rap music playing in their car that set their children up for disrespectful behavior and failure. He was so successful in explaining how rap lyrics create a bad attitude in children that the father not only changed the music choice, he also joined the FBI.

THE BOTTOM LINE FOR Fathers Being Involved is creating a prominent place for fathers in their children’s lives where they are seen and valued. Craig has frequently observed that men will see something and talk about something, but few men will do anything about it. He says that once a man is respected in a space, he feels like he is making a difference and becomes a leader in that space.

“We have to condition these children to respect themselves, respect adults, and to respect their community so that five years down the road when they are in high school they will be disciplined, and prayerfully, more academically accomplished,” proposes Craig.

Fathers Being Involved also encourages fathers to be attentive to their health and be a role model for their children. FBI is working on a monthly feature where a father talks about his career to inspire the kids. They are also working on a program to have fathers come in and read to the children.

The Michigan Fatherhood Alliance has asked Doug Craig to be part of their restructuring. His initiatives have grown from one elementary school to the whole Oak Park Public School system. He is now being invited to carry his programs and events through to other schools in other cities.

Craig credits the City of Oak Park for the organic growth of the FBI organization. He cites the public response, the neighborhoods, and the inclusive spirit of the people for his successful fatherhood initiative.

By Sara Teller

Cheryl Weiss has lived in Oak Park her whole life. “And, I will continue to live here for the rest of my life,” she said. “When I bought my house, I didn’t even consider looking anywhere else. I love the people here. We are diverse in every possible way, yet we enjoy sharing the community together.”

Her love for writing has also been lifelong. “I’ve been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil,” she explained. Weiss wrote for her elementary school’s newsletter, middle-school newspaper, and took a high-school journalism class. “Then, I joined the newspaper staff, and became the features editor in my junior year; moving up to editor of the paper in my senior year,” she explained.

She knew she wanted to pursue writing post-graduation, but had a tough time deciding between that and another passion of hers — teaching. “When I graduated, I was torn between going into journalism and teaching and, ultimately, I chose to teach.”

Weiss loved it. “I was an elementary teacher for 22 years full-time, three years as a substitute teacher. I first taught at Pepper Elementary School in Oak Park, the same classroom , I attended as a child. It was exactly what I hoped for. Returning to my school as a teacher was the best. I then taught in Farmington for 13 years and I had some wonderful experiences there as well.”

Eventually, she learned a way to combine both teaching and writing. “One way I combined both passions during my teaching career was that I brought a school newspaper production club to schools in both districts where I taught — Oak Park, then Farmington — and had a blast with the kids.”

When she retired in 2014, Weiss finally had time to devote her energy to writing again. “Retirement was like a graduation for me; I ended one stage of my life, which was bittersweet, and moved forward to a new stage filled with opportunities I never had before.”

It was an Oak Park story that helped her get published. “My first time writing for publication was in January 2015, when Crystal Proxmire of the Oakland County Times asked me to cover a meeting regarding the possible closing of the Oak Park Jewish Community Center. I was very happy to say yes, and loved every minute of it. Seeing it published with my byline was incredible.”

One of Weiss’ favorite projects featured Ernie Hassan of Ernie’s Market. “I wanted to do more than other writers had done to find the stories he hasn’t shared before in the numerous other stories written about him, and I did that. I am proud of that story, and it’s my favorite so far,” she said.

Weiss has been involved in the Oak Park community in many ways. She started Oak Park Neighbors, a group page on Facebook, which has grown to over 2,600 members since its inception. She is also Vice President of the Oak Park Friends of the Library. “I also enjoy helping Denise DeSantis; I wrote a piece about how to save money on your water bill for the Winter edition of the Oak Park City Magazine,” she said.

Weiss enjoys interacting with other community members in any way she can, saying, “There is something special about Oak Parkers; there is a connection we share that lasts forever.”

Story by Mary Meldrum
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

In 2014, Congregation T’chiyah welcomed Rabbi Alana Alpert from California to Oak Park, Michigan. Her arrival initiated a new direction for the congregation as she began a dual position, serving both as Rabbi and as a community organizer with Detroit Jews for Justice.

Rabbi Alpert arrived prepared for the challenge. She graduated from UC Santa Cruz where she studied resistance and social movements and learned about faith-based community organization. She had already en-gaged in leadership around feminism, Israel/Palestine, GLBTIQ rights, and prison reform. She attended rabbinical school to prepare for Jewish leadership, and she also spent three years in Israel and speaks Hebrew fluently.

Congregation T’chiyah was founded in Detroit in 1977, and they were “lay led” for most of their existence. About five years ago they decided they wanted a rabbi and that they wanted to focus on social justice work. But they didn’t need a full-time rabbi. While there was good work happening on the community relations and social service level by the local Jewish community, they felt that there was room for more meaningful work with racial and economic justice. The congregation set about looking for a rabbi that had a background in community organizing who would be their part-time rabbi and their part-time organizer for the broader Jewish community. That idea eventually developed into what today is Detroit Jews for Justice.

The congregation now resides in Oak Park, and has approximately 90 congregational members – more than double the membership from when Rabbi Alpert arrived in 2014. Rabbi Alpert attributes this growth to her smart congregation that adopted a social justice mission. Having an energetic, young rabbi out in the community raising awareness has attracted additional members, as well.

Aside from the original members setting some good objectives, their work is now resonating with a greater cross-section of people from a wider geographic area around Detroit, and includes new members from younger generations. While established members tend to be a steadfast part of the congregation, younger members connect with the social justice mission of Detroit Jews for Justice, and they eventually become more interested in the larger scope of work that the congregation does.

Detroit Jews for Justice is based off a successful model in New York, the Twin Cities and Washington, D.C., which they have adopted and adjusted to their context for their program in Oak Park. “Our mission is to be a Jewish voice in the progressive community and the Jewish community. We are interested in engaging Jews in movements for racial and economic justice,” describes Rabbi Alpert. “We have built a base of about 100 people who identify as Detroit Jews for Justice leaders, and they choose as a group to focus on certain topics.”

Rabbi Alpert is clear that their work distinguishes them from other groups; what they do is not social service. They are trying to change conditions. She also says there are lots of folks who live in the suburbs who want to put in time and get involved with Detroit. Detroit Jews for Justice is giving people more meaningful ways to connect with the city and be supportive of Detroiters.

As outlined in their core values, Detroit Jews for Justice honors the long history of activism that came before them and organizes around aspiring towards a better world. They choose work that is actionable, winnable and relevant to the lives and experiences of communities in the region. Their work follows the lead of people who are directly impacted by injustice; they support the work around key issues of Detroit and surrounding communities, and they address root causes of injustice.

The group now meets once a month at Rabbi Alpert’s home because young people seem to prefer to meet in homes. They also meet twice a month at the Mondrey building in Oak Park, and twice a month at various locations in Detroit. “We have a high percentage of attendance from our membership,” says Rabbi Alpert.

“We usually have at least 20 people on a Saturday morning and about 40 people on a Friday night.”

Rabbi Alpert reports that congregational members, as well as members for the Detroit Jews for Justice, travel from all over the metro area including Detroit, Shelby Township, West Bloomfield and Huntington Woods. As an organization that serves families who live in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs, Oak Park has proved to be a comfortable commute and very convenient meeting point for everyone.

Story by Sara E. Teller
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Sudha Sekhar, a 40-year resident of Oak Park who began her passion for dance at the young age of three, has been teaching the art since 1958. Her desire to share her talent began in India, and she eventually took her expertise with her to Canada in 1967, then the United States. Sekhar is originally from Mumbai and came to Canada after her arranged marriage.

“It’s been a 60-year journey as a teacher, guru, and mentor for hundreds of students,” Sekhar said. “I teach the sacred, ancient, classical dance form called Bharata Natyam, which we consider a fifth Veda. I have also taught Kuchipudi of Andhra Pradesh, as well as the Kathak form of North Indian classical dance and Indian folk dancing.”

Sekhar feels teaching dance to others is her life’s purpose. She explains, “It has been a deep dedication for me to promote, preserve, and share the ancient arts of Indian music, dance, poetry, and theater with the younger generation. I have been trained by bona fide gurus, and would like the world to know about the discipline, devotion, and greatness of these arts that enhance the quality of life through development of a strong character, mindfulness, and mind, body, and soul consciousness.”

The 77-year-old has also served with Oak Parks Arts & Cultural Diversity Commission since 2007, as well as being an active member and the Charter President of the Oak Park-Royal Oak Township Optimist Club. “We are a group of like-minded individuals with a variety of interests and accomplishments. We have annual spring and summer festivals, and an annual World Dance Day on April 29th which I started in 2010 to promote collaboration with the diverse dance groups in our city,” she explained.

Sekhar holds private dance lessons and group sessions in her home studio in Oak Park. “Finding a place is hard for our type of dances, as we dance barefoot,” she said. “It was easier for me to teach at home for some girls, and that way my daughters also made friends and learned about our traditional arts.” She also teaches in Farmington Hills, Canton, Ann Arbor and Troy, and will be starting a group in West Bloomfield soon.

Sekhar is used to traveling for the art. “My husband and I have driven with our daughters to Lansing, Dearborn Heights, and Westland, to name a few. I drove to Flint, and Saginaw for almost 20 years to teach students there. Before coming to Detroit, my family lived for 11 years in Windsor, Ontario, where my daughters were born. I was invited to teach in Windsor, Ontario, St. John, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Bar Harbor, Maine until the year 2000.”

All of those years spent dedicated to extending the art to her children paid off. “My oldest daughter, Vidya, is a two-time world record holder for solo classical dancing. She got her first world record in 1989 when she danced for 48 hours in aid of the American Cancer Society. She beat her record by dancing for 72 hours for the American Heart Association in 1996 in memory of her father. She contributed $10,000 to each of these organizations.”

Sekhar said her family has always been very much involved with charitable organizations. “We have always contributed to worthy causes for advancing education and health consciousness.” Sekhar loves Oak Park, especially the city’s diversity. “It’s a beautiful family city,” she said. “We made our home here because we felt welcome here. We have a great mayor who has put Oak Park on the map. So many people from different lands have made their home here, bringing with them the richness of their unique culture, talents, and mannerisms which has added to the colorful mosaic of this city.

I try to attend classes at our Oak Park Community Center, offered by our Department of Recreation, whenever time permits. This is a city of fine restaurants, shops, pharmacies, schools, parks, and admirable services.”

Students interested in connecting with Shekhar can visit her website at www.hindutemplerythms.org

Story By :  Jeff Milo
Photo By : Bernie Laframboise

FERNDALE HAS HAD ITS SHARE OF FAMOUS FOLKS HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT. BUT FEW ARE AS OUTGOING AS AUTHOR JOSH MALERMAN; HE’LL TELL YOU HIS STORY IF YOU BUMP INTO HIM. More likely, he’ll probably want to hear your story. As a writer, he’s naturally fascinated by people. He has a knack for getting familiar very fast. That’s expected, not just as an author who’s naturally fascinated by people, but also from years of touring with and performing at countless local rock venues with the band The High Strung.

Next year, Malerman’s breakout horror novel, Bird Box, is being adapted into a major motion-picture production, with a cast that includes Hollywood icons like Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich. His third novel on a major publishing house came out on Halloween, and his fourth will be out by Spring of next year. Oh, and you can hear his lead vocals over the rock music of The High Strung’s song “Luck You Got” during the opening credits of Showtime’s Shameless. Life begins at 40, they say, but for Malmeran, so does fame…, but that “fame” only comes after writing more than a dozen novels before his first publication, and after almo
st 20 years in his band during which they released seven LPs and logged about 2,000 days of touring.

“I knew from the moment Universal (Pictures) optioned Bird Box that I’d have no say in the script, the music, the process; I’m fine with that. Not just because that’s the natural process for an unknown author selling a book to the movies, but because I’m a true fan of collaborative art! I’m interested as hell to see what they do with it! Have fun with it, I say! The book will always be there.”

Bird Box made a big splash in the genres of horror and dystopic thrillers: a near future world (set in Michigan) where an uncanny new species has infiltrated civilization, the mere sight of these supernatural entities can spiral any observer off into destructive mania. “So, I just hope three things for the movie: that it’s scary as hell; that the music is phenomenal, and that everyone involved has a really good time making it. That’s where I’m at with it.” He said he feels the same way about next year’s Unbury Carol, another horror novel, which will be out on Del Rey, and has its own potential to be adapted some day.

His most recent, Goblin, came out on Halloween. It’s a novel told in six short, interconnected stories; effectively presented as “What if The Twilight Zone were an actual city?” And the citizens of this fictitious municipality known as Goblin seem to be aware that their town is naturally supernatural, and that an intangible entity of danger resides in its recesses.

“And that can easily be said about America as a whole, right now,” Malerman mused. “Things are crazy. We all know it. And yet, aren’t we all still proud to be from the USA? Aren’t we still glad to call this place home? Now, Goblin doesn’t have the same political madness, but it certainly has that pride. Everyone in Goblin is a bit obsessed…Behind every closed door and draped window, there’s a person fixated on something in their life that would sound crazy to the rest of us who are, really, in turn, fixated on our own infinitesimal things.” It being a horror novel, though, you can expect that Goblin residents often flirt with near or certain doom due to the malevolent magnetisms of their fixations.

Malerman says that Goblin shares very few similarities with Ferndale. Nevertheless, our city’s unique charms still influence Malerman’s imagination in other ways. “Ferndale is exactly the right-sized city in which, when you go out, you have a good chance of running into someone you know—but you still might not.

So when you do run into someone: it’s a spark! Ferndale is a great mix of
“small town” and “city,” so it definitely plays into the landscape of whatever book I’m writing. There are enough bookstores here (Library Bookstore, John King North) and in Oak Park and Berkley, where I can hope to find an old horror novel I’ve been searching for. Couple that with the coffee shops, here!Trip that with the bars! Then, let’s quadruple that with the folks inside those bars; yeah, Ferndale plays a major part in my life, which in turn plays a major part in the books.”

As Malerman tells it, he finds inspiration here in more eclectic forms. (And that, as you’ll read, is notably due to his partner, in life and in art, Allison Laako.) “Ferndale is the kind of smaller town that has completely adopted the big city freedom of expression,” Malerman says.

One weekend night, Laako enthused Malerman to head out to Zeke’s to see a band; that she’d catch up later. Only thing was, his driving ahead on this frigid winter night meant she’d have to walk there. “The band has already started and I suddenly see someone in a penguin suit outside walking up to the door. I think, ‘Hmm, we have a penguin suit…! I wonder…?’ And sure enough, brilliant Allison found the warmest thing in our house to wear, penguin-head and all. Everyone in the bar, they laughed, they got into it! You can be a freak in Ferndale! But…the locals are also hungry enough to ask a little something more of your freakishness—be clever about it, use it in a powerful or fun way. If you’re gonna let your freak flag fly, let us all hear it flapping in the wind. We like that sound in Ferndale!”

Laako is a hybrid, visual artist, improvisatory thespian, singer, and makeup visionary. Her creativity and vibrant imagination have certifiably inspired Malerman during their six years together—intimate scenes of which are captured in Quilt of Delirium, a recently released documentary streaming online, directed by Scott Allen. That film can continue telling the story of Malerman, beyond this page. It’s a story that includes his band, The High Strung, as well as unpacks the source of his deep love for telling stories.

Goblin is out now; Unbury Carol is on the way, and a movie version of Bird Box will be out after that. Oh, and then there’s that new High Strung album…All this creative output, surging right out of Ferndale.