Groundbreaking at Academy of Warren!

Even if the event doesn’t look exciting (that’s me on the left digging furiously next to Camille Martin, Oronde Kearney, and Sara Fields), the project really is exciting: Transforming the Academy of Warren, a K-8 charter school in a former strip retail property on a largely empty stretch of East Eight Mile Road, into a place where students are excited to arrive and, at the end of the day, reluctant to leave.

And we’re doing this with no fund raising, no foundations, no new government funds, and no diversion of funds from the school’s limited operating budget.

The trick? At Equity Schools we call this “Nonlinear Project Funding.” For more info on our process (including a short video), see our About page.

A Challenge, To Be Sure

AOW is serving some of the lowest-income families in Detroit, all African-American. The kids are absolutely great, and the educators are committed to making a difference, but … the school is in an old supermarket building, surrounded by acres of asphalt.

Windowless classrooms, no natural light, and really none of the learning environments you would hope for (eg, no library, no science labs, no gym, no art … you get the idea). Unfortunately, these students have nothing to compare it with and they think it’s normal. And their families have no real choices for other schools.

This was the challenge for us.

How do we transform this school to include stimulating and varied learning environments, and enriching opportunities for children to socialize, play and have fun? How do we provide natural light, improved air quality, enhanced nutrition, physical activities, co-curricular programs, green space?

As the school’s leader told us – he wanted anyone coming to the school to think and feel:

  • Safe
  • Welcome
  • Comfortable
  • Family-Oriented
  • Warm
  • Excitement
  • Wow
  • Wonder

He wanted it to be the kind of school where children are eager to arrive and reluctant to leave.

Success! Before & After

After a couple years of hard work and obstacles – we’re happy to say that this $9.7 million project is fully funded and currently under construction! We broke ground on August 14, 2020, and are planning for construction to be complete by September 2021.

Take a look below for some approximate before / after images of some of our favorite parts of the project – currently with artistic renderings by Bondy Studio until we have real photos when construction is complete.

Current Kindergarten hallway (left), new interactive corridor – the “Learning Street” (right):

Current “multipurpose” room (left), new “Adventure Space” with bouldering, student lounge, black box theater (right):

We’re also converting five acres of the 12-acre site from asphalt to green space (athletic field, student gardens, landscaping, and a playground designed by the students):

To see more renderings of the special new learning environments that are underway, view the Academy of Warren entry in our Portfolio. Or, see below for a 2 minute video highlighting some of the exciting updates coming to AOW:

Of course, we wouldn’t be able to get all this work done without our friends at Sachse Construction. Their team has worked closely with us on so many elements of this project – and we feel confident that this transformation is in good hands with Sachse leading the construction efforts.


Personally, I’ll be more excited by the ribbon-cutting than the groundbreaking.

We’ll have the Academy done by Sep 2021, please consider yourself invited!

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