4th grader Bryce Williams, 8, is recorded by his mother while being welcomed to his first day of school at Eisenhower Elementary School in Southfield on Monday, August 28, 2023. (Sarabeth Maney/Detroit Free Press)

Adults lined up on opposite sides of a sidewalk clapped and a brass band played as students entered Fisher Magnet Academy in Detroit. A mom in Eastpointe provided some needed consolation for her daughter starting the year in a new school. And in Southfield, one elementary school started the year in a different building as their old digs get renovated.

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This story also appeared in Chalkbeat Detroit and Detroit Free Press

As the new school year began on Monday in the Detroit Public Schools Community District and others across Michigan, students are facing familiar challenges — with the promise of fresh solutions.

The 2023-24 year marks the fourth full school year since the pandemic started, and offers the state’s public schools an opportunity to recalibrate academic recovery programs, tackle mental health issues, and address longstanding problems, some of which long began before the pandemic.

A teacher hugs students on the first day of school.
Elizabeth Bur, a third grade teacher at Pleasantview Elementary School in Eastpointe, greets her new students with high fives and hugs on the first day of school Monday. (Lily Altavena/Detroit Free Press)

The challenges came early in the day for Brooklyn Anderson, a third grader at Pleasantview Elementary in Eastpointe, who had to be comforted by her mother, Sheree Anderson, and her new third grade teacher, Elizabeth Bur. 

All third graders are new to Pleasantview, which serves kids grades 3-5. Brooklyn, 8, told her mother she hoped her best friend would show up to the same school, and was crestfallen when she didn’t. Nerves took over as she waited in line to enter the school. 

By 8:30, however, over Cinnamon Toast Crunch and chocolate milk, Brooklyn and Iris Wisser, also 8, were sharing crayons and laughing about how much they love Fruity Pebbles as a late night snack. 

“I’m optimistic about the relationships she’ll build this year,” Sheree said of Brooklyn.

In Detroit, community leaders, neighborhood service organizations, and educators lined up at the main entrance of Fisher Magnet Academy armed with free backpacks and applause to welcome students back to school. The Gabriel Hall Brass Brand provided the soundtrack.

Among those gathered was Sandra Turner-Handy, a longtime activist and president of the Denby Neighborhood Alliance. She said it’s important that young people recognize that their community is their support system. 

“We are determined for them to get the educational learning that they need to be successful in life,” Turner-Handy said. 

A student is applauded as they walk into Fisher Magnet Academy in the Detroit Public Schools Community District for the first day of school on Monday. (Orlando Bailey/BridgeDetroit)

Across town, Anthony Buford made a dash for the doors of his new school building.

“I’ve been expecting this for like two years,” Anthony said, heading into his senior year at Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men. 

The new building is the formerly vacant Northern High School building, about 3 miles north of the old location near Midtown.

For Douglass students, a new year in a new building is a chance to leave a lasting impact. 

“I have a good feeling,” said James Coleman, a senior at Douglass, of the new space. “Hopefully the new building will be more vibrant.” 

The reactivation of the old Northern High School is part of the district’s $700 million facility master plan, which used COVID relief dollars to rebuild, renovate, and reactivate current and former school buildings across the city.

A building change also greeted students attending Adler Elementary School in Southfield. They’ll be in the Eisenhower Elementary School building temporarily while renovations are underway at the Adler building, Principal Alma Deane explained.

“Next school year, the plan is we will move back into our newly renovated Adler Elementary School,” she said. 

Deane said she believes students won’t have a hard time getting acclimated to the temporary building, as the layout of Eisenhower Elementary is similar to Adler’s. 

On the first day, some were still thinking about their summer vacation while looking ahead to the new year.

Gabrielle Gross, 10, is starting fifth grade. She and her four siblings went to Champions camp at Birney Middle School this summer. 

“One of the things I liked about camp was the last field trip that we took. We went to Normandy Park,” Gross said. “This year, I’m looking forward to learn more. My favorite class is math.”

Lily Altavena is a reporter for the Detroit Free Press covering educational equity. You can reach her at laltavena@freepress.com.

Orlando Bailey is the engagement director for BridgeDetroit. You can reach him at obailey@bridgedetroit.com

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at ebakuli@chalkbeat.org.

Nour Rahal is a breaking news reporter for the Detroit Free Press. You can reach her at nrahal@freepress.com.

Orlando Bailey is Engagement Director for BridgeDetroit. He is the former deputy director for Eastside Community Network in Detroit, is co-host of the Authentically Detroit podcast, and is the host at...

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