by Stefanie T. Stauffer
Catherine Ferguson Academy has a farm. Complete with an apple orchard, beehives, goats, chickens, turkeys, geese, and even a horse in the pasture, CFA is arguably the most famous urban farm in Detroit. But CFA is much more than just another Detroit urban farm. Catherine Ferguson Academy is also a high school for pregnant and parenting teens (one of three of its kind in the United States), that currently boasts a 90% graduation rate and 100% rate of graduates attending two or four year colleges, which is a remarkable feat for any school to accomplish, let alone one in the heart of Detroit. CFA’s success comes directly from the dedication of its staff and students and its emphasis on hands-on learning.
In the award-winning film “Grown in Detroit,” Dutch filmmakers Mascha and Manfred Poppenk give us a rare glimpse into how such hands-on learning happens at Catherine Ferguson, showing audiences how the students make value-added farm products like honey and apple cider during class. In the film, viewers also get to see how the students learn to grow, harvest, and then sell their produce at CFA and at Detroit’s Eastern Market under the “Grown in Detroit” label. This footage makes it clear that the educators at CFA are committed to providing their students not just with the education to become better parents, but also with the skills and training necessary to secure jobs in the burgeoning green economy. It is made clear by the film that the students are committed to acquiring those skills since many would have been forced to drop out of school if CFA did not exist.
So, Catherine Ferguson sounds like an amazing school, right? Maybe even like a school that should be a model for Detroit and elsewhere? As a self-taught urban farmer, I’m amazed and at times even jealous of the things Catherine Ferguson students get to learn in school! Above and beyond its curriculum and mission, however, CFA’s most important contribution is as one of those unique places that brings everyone together regardless of race, class, gender, age or political views (something Detroit needs much more of). So then why is Catherine Ferguson Academy at the top of the list of Detroit schools to be closed this June by emergency financial manager Robert Bobb?!
Last year, CFA was also on Bobb’s closure list until the community fought back and successfully defended its right to remain open. Yet here we are again in the same predicament, although now the DPS emergency manager has more power and is aggressively seeking to silence the desires of school board and community members alike, even having CFA students and their teacher arrested for attempting to defend their school. Ironically, this tactic of arrest first, ask questions later has seemingly backfired for Bobb as CFA caught national attention alongside Benton Harbor on “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Maddow’s coverage triggered a flood of articles and blogs about CFA, which perhaps encouraged Bobb to cancel a public hearing about all the DPS closures scheduled for May 3.
But CFA students, teachers and their supporters responded by marching through the streets of Detroit from CFA to Bobb’s office during the following week. And, as they walked down Woodward Avenue, people waved, supportive horns blared, cars spontaneously blocked intersections to let them pass, and they kept chanting: “We need books, supplies, and small class size. We don’t need to privatize!”
To find out more about Catherine Ferguson Academy and to help CFA remain open, please visit: www.grownindetroitmovie.com. If you would like to voice your concerns about CFA and all other proposed DPS school closures and program cutbacks, I urge you to contact the DPS emergency manager directly (*note: the position will soon transition from Robert Bobb to Roy Roberts). That contact information is located here: http://detroitk12.org/admin/finance/manager .