Karen McEwen, principal of Cooke STEM Academy, knows what it’s like to be a bad kid in school. She acknowledges she was one of them. McEwen wasn’t the type of student who skipped classes to hang in a friend’s basement or cause mayhem outside school. She did it right in the classroom while sitting at her desk.
“I would write a note, and we would pass it around the classroom. It would say, ‘When the hand on the clock hits 5, we will all stomp our feet,’” she recalled. Sometimes, she led other students to clap their hands or stand up simultaneously. Her ideas were endless, and she was a good at leading the other students to act out until she got caught as the main culprit.
Now that McEwen leads Cooke, a pre-K to 6th-grade school on Detroit’s west side, she said she draws on her past as a trouble-maker to relate to her students today.
“I see so much potential in them,” she said. “I call them scholars because that will ring in their heads. No matter what.
“I tell them, ‘You have to constantly fight for yourself no matter what’s going on at home, no matter what’s going on in your family, no matter what’s going on in the classroom. You have to be prepared.
“You are our future. We are not going to live forever. So you are going to have to take care of us. You are our future doctors and lawyers, and no matter what you decide to do in your life, you have to be prepared.
“You are going to kindergarten, to middle school to high school and then college. It’s not a question of if you are going to college, but where you are are going to college. But you are going to college.”
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