Detroit Achievement Academy makes strides in Detroit Brightmoor - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Detroit Achievement Academy makes strides in Detroit's Brightmoor

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The Detroit Achievement Academy has been open for just three months now but has already made a big impact on the lives of young children in Detroit, a city that has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country. The school opened this fall with just kindergarten and first grade. The goal is to add a grade level each year.

The school is free to attend but, unlike most charted schools in Detroit, the DAA is a nonprofit run mainly by donations.

You can learn more about the school and donate on its website,

The school's founder, Kyle Smitley, and her staff go above and beyond - she rides the bus to pick up the kids each morning, feeds them all three meals a day and gives them the attention they need to succeed.

Fox 2's Taryn Asher shares the touching story of how the Detroit Achievement Academy is working to break the cycle.

VIDEO: Watch the story in the video player above, or you can read the story below


It's 8 a.m. on a Monday. Another school day is taking shape. Kindergartners and first graders - some awake, some not so much - but that's not the challenge. Sometimes, it's getting them here.

"A lot of people would tell you that where we're going now is actually the most dangerous part of the city of Detroit."

Kyle Smitley is the founder of the Detroit Achievement Academy located in Brightmoor, one of the poorest zip codes in Detroit, and in Detroit that says a lot. Someone is murdered in the city almost every day. Unemployment is triple the national average, and only six in ten graduate from high school.

But one student at a time Smitley is working to break a cycle that has plagued Detroit for decades.

"How hard it is depends on the day. Sometimes it's super easy; they're there and ready and sometimes I'm calling, I'm knocking."

Every morning she rides the bus to make sure the kids make it to school.

First stop: The Smith Projects.

5-year-old Ronald "forgets" his coat; Kyle suspects he doesn't have one. Kids here aren't asking for toys this Christmas. Some would just like a bed.

A bed.

For Christmas.

Families struggle. Some can't even afford food and children along this route often go without. So at this academy, not only do kids learn, they eat. Three meals a day.

"So we have kind of set ourselves up to sort of being like an extension of their families."

For Smitley, this school is a labor of love. She graduated from law school, started a multi-million dollar children's clothing line and lived a lucrative life in San Francisco. But this 28 year old felt something was missing.

"This sort of sense of fulfillment that you can have it all on paper but still feel like you absolutely have nothing," she says.

Last year she sold her company and decided to open a charter school in northwest Detroit.

"Detroit was this perfect mix of being awesome city to live in but then being able to make a really big impact where we needed to," she explains. That's right - she said "live in" - she calls the city home.

And they certainly have had to deal with some challenges. Four days after the school opened it's doors someone broke in through the window - the only window that didn't have bars on it - and stole all of their technology. But, as you can see, they've had no choice but to have them installed to make sure this doesn't happen again.

"It took me a long time to really accept that someone had broken into our school building and taken technology that we had to save up for and that we bought and really treasured," Smitley admits.

But through generous donations, how the school is mostly funded, the DAA was able to buy more.

Class has been in session nearly three months. Students, some who were barely verbal, can now read. Whether it's in a classroom setting, specialized group sessions or one-on-one the teachers inspire and encourage the students to meet their learning targets.

"I love so much that Ms. Johnson says I was reading good," Diego Rodriguez, a kindergartner, says.

"While the world may think that, because they have limited resources it's difficult for them to achieve such greatness, but for them to be reading recognizing words, can break down syllables in any word, that is the most fulfilling thing and that's why I come to work," teacher Danielle Johnson shares.

Parents can see the difference already.

Ronald's mother Tiffany Holliday, who has nine other children, is grateful the school literally came knocking at her door.

"They worry about their academics and make sure they learn. Most people there, really, for a check but they are not," Holliday says.

The academy is educating students and parents.

'What she teach kids at school they carry onto the home. She like the parents to get more involved with the kids, too, so not only does she work with the kids she gets the parents involved in what's going on, too," explains Deborah Andrews.

"I see a renewal. I see a new chance, a new opportunity. I see hope, and I can see it in the other parents," says Kamilah Harris. She has a first grade child at DAA.

Instead of being crushed by circumstances beyond their control, for these kids the future is brighter. It's giving them a little "shine" and that's definitely worth singing about.

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