Image Description: Attendees stare up at an unusual sighting of a fish skull that had been dropped by a bird of prey into a decaying tree trunk at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

The SEMIS Coalition’s Annual Summer Institute took place July 24-27, 2023. It was filled with adventure, wonder, and community building.

This four-day experience guided SEMIS Coalition teachers, community partners, and alumni through a Place-Based Education (PBE) inquiry process and immersed them in our southeast Michigan communities. Throughout the week we followed our Launch/Build/Act/Reflect PBE sequence to model learning practices and build community through teams, engaged dialogue around education, and shared stories to deepen our connections to the community. We were elated to have more than 40 member teachers in attendance from schools ranging from Dexter to Dearborn, Detroit, Ypsilanti, Jackson, and more!

Adult Learning Goals for our Summer Institute (from Leading Change Together by Drago-Severson and Blum-DeStefano):
1. Take a greater perspective on ourselves, others, and the systems we live and work in.
2. Connect more deeply and meaningfully with colleagues and community partners.
3. Continue to learn, teach, lead and adapt as the world changes and evolves.

Thinking about this idea of getting to know a place, we explored history, uses, physical attributes, and webs of relationships. We dove deep into the some of the Anchors of Place-Based Education:

  1. Student-Centered Inquiry
  2. Understanding Of and Connection To Place
  3. Informed Civic Engagement

Our “Launch” activities on Day One took place at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge with the help of Ranger Jazmyn Bernard, then headed out for a Traveling Dialogue to historical places of significance along the water. These included the Indigenous historical site of Brownstown and the mouth of the Huron River at Lake Erie Metropark. On Day Two, we “Built” on our inquiry learning together at Eastern Michigan University’s College of Education, and closed the day with a visit to Ypsilanti High School to see their outdoor learning spaces (Prairie, Community Garden, and Grizzly Forest). On Day Three we “Acted” by visiting a human-made lake (Ford Lake) and learned the historical context of its place in the landscape, followed by a visit to Ypsilanti City Hall to meet with DPS Director, Bonnie Wessler. In the afternoon we convened at the College of Education to discuss protocols on PBE instructional design, and approaches to teaching. On Day Four we “Reflected” on protocols at EMU’s College of Education, performed a puppet show together titled “Water, Water Everywhere.” We wrapped up the experience hearing from civic leaders and community partners during an ice cream social hour. 

What folks who attended the 2023 Summer Institute are saying:

“I would like to thank you for providing such an awesome learning experience!!! I truly appreciate all of the time and thoughtfulness that went in to planning each day, and ensuring that we leave with new ideas and the support needed to help our students engage in PBE.” – Tracy Ortiz, Middle School teacher, Clippert Academy
“This is one of the best examples of safe, inclusive workshops I have encountered.” – Jennifer Edwards, Elementary School teacher, Ronald Brown Academy
“This is the best summer institute I’ve attended in my career. Thanks so much!” – Leesha Shantz, High School teacher, Jackson High School

“The site visits are always amazing. Including the DRIWR (Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge) as an amazing regional local resource was particularly meaningful to me.” – Rich Bacolor, Curriculum Consultant, Michigan Science Education Leadership Association / Wayne RESA

Takeaways from Kesha Barton, High School teacher at Skyline High School:

We are SO grateful to have explored all of these places, people, and concepts together!

We hope to see you at our 2023-2024 Fall and Winter Professional Learning Days, as well as the Community Forum in May 2024.

To learn more about becoming a member and our Annual Learning Series, email Lisa Voelker at and/or Sarah Halson at