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Detroiter, former teacher & Principal at Henry Ford Academy
In the city of Detroit, few icons rival the legacy of Henry Ford. A visionary businessman and industry leader, Ford became a leading pioneer in the auto industry, transforming the lives of his employees and his consumers - driven by his 'learning by doing' philosophy. In 1997, a Detroit charter school set forth on a bold path to infuse that philosophy into education through an innovative, hands-on program. The result: Henry Ford Academy - a school born out of partnership between Ford Motor Company, the Henry Ford Museum and Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency.
Located directly within the walls of the prestigous Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Henry Ford Academy integrates rich history into daily learning, a far stretch from your average classroom or school. For well-versed public educator Cora Christmas, the curiosity surrounding such a unique school model was simply too strong to pass up.
Born and raised in Detroit, Cora always felt a drive to give back to her city. Fulfilling a lifelong dream to become a math teacher, she began her education career teaching in Detroit, and eventually rose to administrative positions. It wasn't long before opportunity came knocking at her door, and she was offered an administrative role in a highly successful suburban traditional public school district.
Back at HFA, the unique "teacher-led" model was struggling just weeks after opening their doors to the first 100 students - they needed a leader; someone who could manage the needs of parents, and students, and teachers. They needed a principal. Cora came highly recommended for the job, but could she leave her comfortable, successful suburban position and roll the dice on this new charter school? The short answer: yes.
And while it was nothing like the schools Cora had previously led, Henry Ford Academy came with a whole host of unique challenges and opportunities. For the average HFA student, a normal day might include math, chemistry, directing a lost museum guest and even taking a stroll through the scenic Greenfield Village. Lessons might take place in the classroom, or they might require a trip off campus to shadow and work with real professionals in the community.
"We talk a lot with students about the difference between expensive and priceless," commented Cora on the unique school location, "we focus on building appreciation for the priceless history and innovation they are surrounded with every day, helping them learn how to learn, how to collaborate, how to solve problems - and how those skills translate into the rest of their lives."
And as students approach the "rest of their lives", HFA's key partnerships provide even more opportunities for students to realize the 'learning by doing' philosophy. For some students, that means participating in a mock trial with Ford Motor Company lawyers, taking an issue all the way to Oakland Country Court.
For Cora, those opportunities are truly one of a kind.
"I truly believe that we [Henry Ford Academy] were on the forefront of what partnership could look like for schools. We are creating pathways through business for students to have a different experience, and it's remarkable."