Kindergartners learning both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Each third grader learning to play the violin. An 11 month school year. School administrators who are constantly reviewing best practices in education so they can help children learn how to learn. A community that actively engages with the school, providing over 150 partners that help encourage students to do their best.
Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Tucked away on Detroit’s east side, Cornerstone Schools provides that experience.
“When people come in, they are always pleasantly surprised,” says Ernestine L. Sanders, CEO and President of Cornerstone Schools. “The parents come because of our mission. They come because it’s a safe environment. They come because it’s a clean environment. They come because it’s broad and deep at the same time.”
Part of delivering a broad and deep educational experience can be found in the philosophy of the school. By focusing on a positive transformation for each child, the school aims to transform the community. Actively engaging parents and recognizing them as a child’s first teacher is a big key in creating that transformative experience.
Focusing on the arts leads to positive outcomes for the kids, too. That is part of why the school started their violin program. Now major string groups from around the country stop by the school when they are performing in Detroit to help reach out to these kids. But implementing the program was a little more challenging than it might sound.
“At first, it looked like a real gutsy move because we had to raise the money for all of those little violins,” remembers Sanders. “there are lots of things that have come as a result of that. For example, the discipline that is required to be a music student and do it well, it transforms that student in terms of their discipline and how they approach all of their learning.”
Another key to living into their philosophy is engaging partners from the community. Partners contribute in two ways, through donations to help defray some of the cost of education and Partner Mornings. These are specific mornings, four times each year, where community partners come in to work directly with the students in a mentoring relationship.
One of Cornerstone’s partners is the Detroit Tigers. The baseball team helps support one of the schools largest fundraisers and many of the players come to talk with the kids. For the burgeoning baseball stars at the school, those visits are their favorites.
“When some of our middle schoolers, especially the boys, they keep all the stats, so that once the Tigers come in, like Justin Verlander, they all thought that was so cool,” exclaimed Sanders.
Since Cornerstone is a private school, parents do have to pay for their kids to experience the school. The community partners and fundraising allow the school to give scholarships to families who cannot pay full tuition, making the school much more accessible for the community. Events like their Be a Tiger for Kids game are key for the school to continue offering affordable education for any student in their neighborhood.