Ypsilanti Community High School has fresh beginning: 'We're absolutely making history'
Cierra Broach made history Tuesday morning.
Along with more than 600 other ninth- to 12th-grade students, 15-year-old Cierra walked through the doors of the new Ypsilanti Community High School to the first day of classes. Ever.
Financially struggling Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts, which had been shedding students for years, were consolidated last year to create the new Ypsilanti Community School District. The district was officially launched July 1 and Tuesday was the first day of classes.
It was, said teacher Pam Vincent, a new beginning.
“How many times in your career do you have the chance to hit the reset button?” she said.
Vincent had taught English at Ypsilanti High School for a decade and she said she’s never felt the energy or optimism that flooded the halls Tuesday.
“It feels more active, more alive,” Vincent said. “We’re absolutely making history.”
The day was not without glitches, large and small. About 120 students were without class schedules, said Principal Justin Jennings, who came to YCSD from the Holland Public School District a month ago.
Many of the students without schedules hadn’t registered, he said. About 520 students had registered and about 20 of those didn’t attend the first day. Three counselors worked throughout the day creating schedules. Still, about 90 students still didn’t have schedules at day’s end.
Any first day of school has its problems, Jennings said. Creating a new high school with students coming from a number of sources is bound to have challenges, he said. “Actually, it wasn’t as bad as expected.”
On a smaller scale: Cierra missed her bus (it came 10 minutes earlier than scheduled, she said) and she had to take her first-ever cab ride. The lunchroom was cheek to jowl. And the bus stop at the end of the day when school was dismissed was managed chaos.
But the rivalry that at least some students feared never appeared. None of the more than a dozen students and staff members interviewed at day’s end saw tension between former Willow Run and Ypsilanti students, despite a cross-town rivalry that existed for decades.
“Everybody made it seem like there was a rivalry,” said Daje Bell, 14, who attended Huron High School last year. “But when I got here this morning, that was proved wrong. People are all friendly,” she said.
“The kids have been great,” Jennings said. “It’s been a smooth transition.”
Junior Tristin Johnson, 16, called his first day amazing, if not a little crowded. He’s worried there won’t be enough lockers for everyone. But cross-town tension? None, he said.
Cierra, who lives around the corner from Willow Run High School and attended the school for ninth grade, said she saw no hard feelings between students. “It’s nice having different people around,” she said. As a member of the cheerleading team, she’s learning to be a Grizzly, the school’s new mascot.
There are a number of changes that will improve the school, Vincent, the English teacher, said. An advisory period has been added and upperclassmen will be able to earn college credit when Eastern Michigan University offers a drama class at the high school. There are more electives. The school has been divided into two distinct schools within a school, University High and STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Manufacturing) Academy. And there will be an instructional advocate for students who need extra help.
The staff, after spending last year steeped in the uncertainty, is pumped, said Vincent, who is leader of the University High learning community.
“We were like kids on Christmas Eve when we couldn’t go to sleep. Now it’s Christmas morning and it’s better than we ever imagined,” she said. Three of the staff members at YCHS are freshly minted teachers, and taught their first day of class Tuesday, Vincent said.
Not everyone was happy with all of the changes, though. It was a rough start for Brea Brown, 16. She arrived to discover she didn’t have a schedule and spent most of the day sitting in the auditorium.
“They’re unorganized,” she said. The lunchroom was too crowded, a big change from last year when she was a freshman at YHS. And she’s not fond of the new school colors, gold and black. “They’re boring,” she said.
Principal Jennings delivered a tough love speech to students at the end of the first day.
“This is not going to be a warm and fuzzy speech,” said Jennings, a former basketball star. There would be no hats or sagging pants and no scanty outfits, he said. There would be no cellphones and no bathroom passes (at least for now) and students would come to class on time.
“My expectations for you are probably higher than your expectations for yourself,” he said.
As the first class of YCHS, Jennings told students they were special and that they are expected to come together.
“There is no more Ypsilanti High School. There is no more Willow Run. It’s over. Everyone here is part of Ypsilanti Community High. You guys have a chance to do something special.”
Janet Miller is a freelance reporter.