More than 50 years ago, a small group of families trusted the care of their children to a newly opened early childhood center in Detroit called Martin Luther King Jr. Day Care Center, which was founded by the Rev. Havious Green and his wife, Julia, in 1971.
At a time when the effects of legalized educational segregation and racial hostilities were widespread, the Greens wanted to create a space for families that embodied the humanitarian and spiritual beliefs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while giving more assistance to those seeking nurturing support.
Year after year, the humble child care center increased its enrollment numbers to meet the needs of the community, and as the student population grew, so did the physical space. It is now known as Martin Luther King Jr. Education Center Academy, (MLKECA) a PreK-8 charter public school authorized by Grand Valley State University that serves about 375 students and has earned many accolades for academic excellence along the way.
Today, MLKECA’s teachers and staff are just as dedicated to meeting the educational needs of Detroit’s children as the day it opened its doors, says Dr. Raphael Price, Director of School Operations, at MLKECA.
And early childhood education is just as important to the MLKECA community as ever. The school has a robust program for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, including the high-quality Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), Michigan’s state-funded preschool program for 4-year-old children.
As a school with child care options, MLKECA continues to meet the needs of the community by offering educational programs for children of a variety of ages.
Producing high-achieving professionals
“We have long recognized the need to provide opportunities for holistic development for African American children in particular. Black boys are often given special education labels. Still, we know they are smart and capable when given the proper guidance and nurturing,” explains Dr. Price. Research shows that high teacher expectations, combined with mentoring and strong parental support, lead to successful outcomes, he says.
As a graduate of MLKECA, Dr. Price knows firsthand what students who are supported can achieve. He went on to attend Cass Tech High School, then earned an undergraduate degree in music education from the University of Michigan, followed by a master’s degree from California State University and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Oakland University.
“None of that was possible without the formative training I had here as a young student at MLKEC Academy,” he says. “I’m grounded in the understanding that there is a need for visionary leadership in this hour to carry forth the legacy of the Rev. and Mrs. Green, our superintendent, Dr. Constance Price, as well as Dr. King’s vision of equality, to move MLKECA forward at a time when we seem to be losing ground on many levels as a country, and especially as we are losing ground in the educational landscape in our country.”
Living up to its namesake, MLKECA has a rich tradition of producing very successful alumni who have found their callings around the world.
“Many of our graduates have gone on to do well in their respective careers, many with advanced degrees from Ivy League schools, Stanford, University of Michigan, medical, engineering and law schools,” he says.“To look at the fact that we have alumni and former students who are now professionals and have chosen to come back, roll up their sleeves, and meet the needs of the current generation as educators, that speaks volumes,” he says. “They value how the experiences they had here shaped their lives.”
Building strong connections with students is valued at MLKECA. Programs that foster relationships also give students opportunities for success.
“We started a mentorship program as a pilot a few years ago, and this year we decided to launch a formal program,” says Dr. Price. “The opportunities children have in creative environments and in schools mitigate the need to discipline students by suspension and expulsion. Our goal through C.H.O.I.C.E.S., our new mentor program (Children Have Opportunities in Creative Environments and Schools), is to inspire each child to reach his or her potential.”
Student mentees meet in small groups after school to learn about and discuss technology, sports, science, world events and how to deal with conflict. The program is designed to “improve academic self-efficacy and life skills through reading, critical analysis and guest presentations,” says Dr. Price. “It’s voluntary, but may become mandatory if I have to call home because a child won’t stay awake in class or is walking out of the classroom without permission or creating a disturbance,” he says. “It’s very effective.
As a doctoral student, Dr. Price studied the value of mentorship and believes there’s a need for mentoring in the K-12 space, especially between professional athletes and students with a passion for sports.
“Research shows that successful collegiate and professional athletes have had great mentors, coaches, teachers and family members who supported and encouraged them through each stage of their development. We’re trying to replicate that here and are taking ideas from mentor programs around the country, as we strive to prepare our children to fulfill their dreams” he says.
Benefits of a charter school
When Dr. Price reflects on the amount of work and resources needed to support just one child, he says he’s grateful for the backing of Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office, the school’s authorizer.
“They provide support, visit our classrooms and learn our pedagogy,” he says. “They offer professional development on a regular basis and provide opportunities for continuing education.”
He especially looks forward to attending this year’s Black Boys & Men Symposium at GVSU.
“This event is designed to look at ways we can improve opportunities for success in the educational pipeline,” he explains. “GVSU is a trailblazer in the effort to mitigate inequities and create thriving, inspirational opportunities for youth. We are grateful that we have the opportunity to be among the great schools they authorize.”
In your own school search
Strong academic offerings are important when you’re looking for a school for your child, but also consider the competence of the teachers and the expectations they have of their students, suggests Dr. Price. Any mentoring programs should help students get a jumpstart on career exploration, including colleges and emerging industries, he says.
“While mentor programs are often regarded as supplemental offerings, I believe that mentoring is the sine qua non, or essential thing, for a student’s successful matriculation through, and beyond, school,” he explains.
“Those relationships are key and integral to giving children the competitive edge. It helps them go to high school focused on why they are there and keeps them on the right path,” he says. “They can go on to college and participate in the sports or fine arts of their choice and really pursue something meaningful.”
Superintendent Dr. Constance Price agrees. “Our philosophy is that students do best in an environment that is positive, challenging and supportive. Accelerated opportunities for learning fine arts, music, technology, foreign languages and the Suzuki method violin all help develop skills needed for the 21st century. Being well-rounded is key,” she says.
Fifty years into its history, leaders are planning the next half-century for MLKECA.
“Because we have teachers and parents who care, we are poised for a great future,” says Dr. Raphael Price. “We are in the unique position where we are having conversations about what the school will look like in the next 50 years of our history. We’ll continue to meet the needs kids have today so they survive and thrive in the future.”
Content sponsored by Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office. Learn more at gvsu.edu/cso. Learn more about Martin Luther King Jr. Education Center Academy at mlkecacademy.org. If you would like to support the school’s after-school mentoring program, please send your letter of interest to email@example.com.