How do you turn a dumping ground into a teachable space? Hope of Detroit Academy (HODA) students engage in many community-based projects as self-defined stewards of their community. While working on other projects, illegal dumping came up in student conversations as a shared concern.

The students’ concern about illegal dumping inspired the HODA Tire Sweep Program.  Students cleaned up a vacant lot near the school, collecting the tires for donation to Cass Community Social Services where the illegally dumped tires are transformed into symbols of doorstep welcome. (The Mudmats Recycling Program  employs Detroit’s homeless to create valued welcome mats.) In the process of supporting a tangible community benefit, students honed skills in mapping, identifying brownfield contaminants, civic engagement, geography and more. Get the full story, below.

Essential Question:  What is Community?

Teacher Team: Tracy Durandetto, Thomas Weems

Community issue or need addressed:  Illegal dumping and resource recycling

Place Based Activity Description:

Recycling in the city of Detroit is on the rise and the students at Hope of Detroit Academy are proud to say they are part of the effort to make that happen. In partnership with Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV), and the guidance of their teacher, Tracey Durandetto, students started a school-wide recycling program. Community Partner, Marina, formerly of Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, supplied additional recycling bins that the organization is donating to HODA to help with the increased interest in recycling.

Together with SEMIS Coalition, the students at Hope of Detroit have been participating in community-based projects to understand the importance of becoming stewards of their community. While engaging other projects like community mapping and a brownfields study, the topic of local illegal dumping arose in students’ conversations.

The students’ concern about illegal dumping inspired the HODA Tire Sweep Program through which students clean up a vacant lot near the school, collecting the tires from the lot for donation to Cass Community Social Services (CCSS). Once delivered, the tires become part of the Mudmats Recycling Program, which employs homeless men to create a valuable recycled product.  In subsequent years of the tire sweep, the tires have been converted to clean fuel through a waste-to-energy recycling program.

SEMIS Connection:

  • Training on youth leadership and youth voice methods
  • Partnership grant for resources related to recycling program and tire program
  • Curriculum supplied by Creative Change Educational Solutions about the twelve types of brownfields and how they affect the community, both economically and environmentally
  • Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision donation of recycling bins

Resources used from outside sources:

  • Working with local politicians and community members to raise awareness of the tire dumping issue and increasing accountability
  • National Wildlife Federation Schoolyard Habitat resources

Community Partnerships:

  • Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision provided supplies, resources and staff to lead tire sweep and recycling campaign.
  • Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit provided the platform for a student presentation on their culminating project.
  • Creative Change Solutions provided curriculum resources on brownfield identification

Other teachers/school staff involved in the PBE project:

  • Neinas Elementary Teachers, June Clora and Lisa Lipscomb were also involved in this project.

Outcomes for Students’ Learning

One benefit of the coalition is the relationships across schools, specifically in Southwest Detroit with HODA and Neinas Elementary.  Students at both schools participated in a Tire Sweep of a local abandoned lot that had become a dumping ground for tires from small auto repair businesses.  When students dug deeper into this issue, they discovered the tires could be used at a waste-to-energy facility outside of Flint, and they were able to engage local politicians to come out for their tire-gathering event.  In the process, Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV), the community partner on this project, was able to address a persistent concern in this community, and made a sign to discourage those who dump about the law and resulting fines.  Neighborhood residents were also interviewed and engaged about the issue, and are more aware and able to alert authorities about the dumping issue in the future.  To supplement their main project of the tire sweep, younger students at HODA created schoolyard habitats and installed rain barrels.  Some of the other student-planned improvements to their playground site include adding benches, a “living fence” and walking track around the perimeter.

Outcomes for Educator Learning:

The relationship between HODA and SEMIS began with a connection to SEMIS steering committee member Johnny Lupinacci and Tracey Durandetto, and focused on the arts and recycling through the support of Matrix Theatre Company. The original trainings included SEMIS first PD series focus on “The Story of Bottled Water,” testing water quality of bottled vs. tap water, a school wide water use study supported through SEMIS staff, creating puppets from recycled water bottles. Teachers engaged from the school also joined forces with Neinas Elementary through the support of SEMIS grant through Matrix and support of the Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, developing common curriculum with partners that allowed for cross-disciplinary work, like the tire sweep project. While some teachers have left HODA, the legacy of school-to-school learning and partnership created the groundwork for the current teachers engaged with SEMIS initiative level grants, which provide region-wide grants for projects across communities with similar project themes. HODA plans to participate in future multi-school initiatives, like schoolyard habitat and playground greening, through partnership with Sarah Halston, Neinas Elementary and John Paul II Elementary. The 2014 Summer Institute focused on one such collaborative project, the tire sweep, and engaged new teachers and long-term SEMIS teachers in tours of this project and its progression through the years.

Powerful Place-Based Education Characteristics:

  • Finding and inviting experts and community members into your classroom
  • Forming community partnerships
  • Using an inquiry approach
  • Creating lessons and projects that provide for student voice and student driven inqiury  
  • Providing opportunities for students to see the “results” their work in the school and community 
  • Conducting meaningful community mapping/inventory activities
  • Helping students to identify and choose the community issues they want to address 
  • Helping students to take action to protect, preserve, re‐vitalize a place   
  • Helping students to take action to address public policies that harm life
  • Putting students in the position of “teacher” (e.g., during Community Forum, PBE conference,                     
  • Summer Institute, presentations to their community)
  • Linking place‐based projects to the exploration of mindsets that are hurting the Earth and us such as
  • consumerism, being human‐centered, etc.
  • Involving families in place‐based projects

Methods for data collection:

  • Creating maps of brownfield sites
  • Interviewing local tire distributers
  • Field trip to Cass Community Services, witnessing how to make tire mats
  • Panel of experts from Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV) about recycling topics
  • Petitioning parents and community members (500 signatures) to urge the city to clean up an illegal dumping site.

Assessment measures:

  • Presentation at SEMIS Community Forum at University of Michigan Dearborn
  • Presented at Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit

Interdisciplinary tie-ins:

  • Civic engagement techniques (petitioning parents, working with City Council and community groups)
  • Land use and geography lessons


S.IP.04.11,12/S.IP.05.11 Make purposeful observations of the natural world. Generate questions based on observations.

S.IP.04.14/S.IP.05.13 Use tools that aid observation and data collection.

S.IA.04.12 /S.IA.05.12 Share ideas and evaluate data and claims about science through purposeful conversation in collaborative


S.IA.04.13/S.IA.05.13 Communicate and present findings of observations and investigations using evidence.


4 – G5.0.1 Assess the positive and negative effects of human activities on the physical environment of the United States.

4 – P4.2.1/5- P4.2.1 Develop and implement an action plan and know how, when, and where to address or inform others about a

public issue.



CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of

reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


5-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources  and environment.