Welcome to this year’s SEMIS Community Forum and the third event in our Forum series this week! This is the first time we’ve had an in-person Community Forum in 3 years and the first time we’ve ever had it outside, so this is a very happy moment for all of us in the Coalition.

Please stand or raise your hand, if it is the first time you have attended a SEMIS Community Forum in person. Alright! Welcome!

Please stand or raise your hand if you were a student presenter on Monday or Tuesday or have posted your project on our online Gallery space.

Can everyone just give these folks a round of applause? Oh my gosh, the amount of courage it takes to present online is huge, and so much knowledge and vision have been shared this week already! Thank you all for leading the way this week!

Please stand if you are a teacher. We want to recognize you for all that you have done these past couple of years, and look what you have accomplished here through and in spite of the pandemic. But we recognize that appreciation has its limits and that, I’ll just say it, as a society, we need to think deeply about whether and how we value our educators. This can begin by doubling your salaries. And if value equalled pay, you would be getting as much as the Hollywood stars and athletes. Just saying. Round of applause.

In place-based education, educators are not only school-based teachers but community members, activists, members of non-profit organizations, and governmental agencies. If you are a community-based educator who partners and wishes to partner with the youth leaders and their class teachers, please stand and be recognized.

So, I have been thinking a lot about an idea that was emphasized on Monday–Adaptation.

We have certainly had to adapt during this pandemic.

And we are entering into a period where because of climate change, we know we will have to further adapt to changes in our environment and in our communities.

But what the student presentations this week and the ones that I think we will engage with today, are really forcing me to think about, are the choices that we all have as we adapt.

Do we choose to adapt in ways that support the common good, that create healthier, free people and more vibrant communities? Or do we adapt in ways that do harm to each other and life on earth?

And one thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes we get so used to the way things are, that we can’t see our own habits and behaviors, and we forget that things haven’t always been this way.

Like when I grew up, we didn’t have water bottles. Back in my day, if you wanted water, you took a glass, put it under the tap, or used a public water fountain on the street. Not one person paid for water. And when my grandparents grew up, everything wasn’t wrapped in plastic. As my grandparents would say if they were around, “Who knew from plastic?”

Humans are weird like that, right? We get into these habits and then we stop noticing that they’re a habit.

Like learning inside all day, for example, sometimes in rooms with no windows, separated from the earth that gives us life–from the smell of the air, the sounds of the birds, the view of the water. Separated from other people in our community.

I mean, who thought of that idea, and who did and does it benefit, to model schools after factories when, in fact, for thousands of years, for the vast majority of human existence, we have learned outside in and with our community.

Who got us into that habit so that now it seems normal to wall off schools from communities and separate youth from adults who have wisdom there and from the natural world that can teach and give us so much. That can lead us and make us whole. That can heal us.

So my first point here is that it is all of our jobs, both youth and adults, during this very challenging time in history to question our habits and ask some very important questions:


  • Why are we doing this? And who benefits?

  • How did it get this way?

  • Is what we are doing supporting life or harming it?

  • What if we did things differently? And for this last question, we really have to use our imaginations, don’t we?

And so, we must all be teachers, we must all be learners in this.

Like the youth leaders at Ypsilanti that are asking why there is so much flooding in their community, who are imagining what would happen if the Paint Creek was unearthed, who are telling us hidden histories and the life stories of people in their community.

And the young teachers in Dexter observing beaver behavior and imagining what it would be like for beavers to be left alone, who are teaching it through music.

And our scholars in Detroit, who are making connections between trash and climate change, re-installing rain gardens to make them more resilient, using biology to study the relationship between soil health and climate change, and using math to look at water and air quality.

And, I’ve only just mentioned a sampling of the projects the school teams here have engaged in. There are many more.

If we don’t ask why, how, and what if, like our Coalition members, we don’t even know the choices we have, we’re like robots, right, like machines, and in so doing we open ourselves up to being dehumanized.

And the problem with living life being unconscious like that, is that it’s easy for other people to control us, to manipulate us into doing things that are not good for us or for our communities.

In our society, for example, we are constantly being sold stuff, on TV, on social media, even when the stuff we buy doesn’t make us happier or it’s not so great for the earth or our communities.

So asking why, how, what if—that’s how we notice our choices, right? That’s how, when there are stressful things coming at us, I mean really coming at us…

Like the pandemic, institutionalized racism, and climate change, instead of reacting, we can pause and question and be wide awake so that we can choose to act in ways that support life, not harm it.

So as we adapt, we can be mindful, right? We can be thoughtful? We can be kind? In short, we can be educated.

So we can choose to learn outside and in our communities. Like we are here today. Can’t we? We can imagine a different way of doing school.

Why? Because not only does the research show this, but–and we feel it–it’s good for our bodies, it’s good for our emotional wellbeing. It makes us less stressed out.

…and it helps us connect to our source of life and to other people in our community and to each other. And because we now have a deep connection to and affection for other living things and for each other, we want to care for them. We want to protect them. And this means we can care for ourselves because we are all interconnected and interdependent. Sometimes, I don’t like this phrase “self-care” because it focuses too much on the individual. Because we are parts of webs of relationships and the web of life, caring for other living things, and each other really is caring for ourselves.

And learning outside, we’re of course, much safer from COVID too, right? Not a small benefit.

And can’t we learn Math and Science, and Social Studies and English by inquiring into questions we’re curious about in our community?

What if school were a place where we could have fun, and feel whole, and learn at the same time? And what if, as we studied community questions and made choices together, we learned to work together in teams, to practice democracy and create community, and practice how to care for each other and even disagree with each other sometimes about what to do,

and you know… do what healthy communities and democracies do when they disagree,

you know…

Learn to work it out. 

Can’t we imagine a way of doing school where young and old learn together, help each other, everyone bringing their own ideas and wisdom and hearts, and differences together to first imagine and then create the healthy, sustainable, and democratic society we want and so desperately need right now?

We call this approach Place-Based Educationwhen learning happens in, with, and for community. And the SEMIS Coalition and SEMIS members, like all of you, have been working for close to 15 years to bring this vision of education to life in Southeast Michigan but also nationally and increasingly internationally.

And, we’re doing it. It’s happening. We’re teaching and learning in ways that help us be and become more human…That helps us be more connected to each other and the earth.

And we have succeeded these past three years in adapting, as a Coalition, ethically, and democratically, and lovingly. Can everyone turn to a neighbor, maybe someone you don’t know, and thank them for this? Because we did this together. 

And can the members of the SEMIS Planning team stand and be recognized for how they adapted our programming and our systems to humanize, care for and support the life of the Coalition and its members through this pandemic? Let’s also give them a round of applause for organizing this week’s events and today.

And we’ve already seen incredible Place-Based Education at work this week, and we are going to experience more today.

Can every young teacher who is presenting today or has presented this week, or who is here to learn, please stand up or raise your hand? Thanks for being our leaders and teachers, and we can’t wait for what you have to teach us today. Adults, please look around you and know that you are supported as we create our society together, now and in the future, and as we adapt and act at this unique moment on the “clock of the world.”

Can all of the adult guides, the teachers, administrators, college students and professors, community educators, and family members, all stand up or raise your hand? Youth, please know that these adults have your back. And when things get tough, you are supported.

It is important to note that the SEMIS Community Forum is not a conference, and student projects don’t have to have been fully finished. Learning is a process, and we come here to learn together.

Who plays a sport or a musical instrument, or a video game? Sometimes you make mistakes, right? It’s all a matter of practice, right? The more you do it, the better you get. You make some mistakes, you correct yourself, and you do it again. Like you all saw me making some mistakes while giving this speech right now. You saw me pause or get the word wrong. I make mistakes all the time, and I’ve been doing this for 30 years!

So please know that our Community Forum is a no-judgment zone. If this is your first time presenting, do your best, and if you make a mistake, no biggy, you are among friends, and mistakes are how we learn.

Please enjoy yourself today. Please push yourself out of your comfort zone and get to know someone new. Think about an idea that can change the world. Enjoy the good weather and food!



It is now time for a short awards ceremony where we recognize SEMIS Coalition members and supporters who have displayed excellence within the Coalition. The folks honored today not only are getting the awards as individuals but represent our collective efforts across the Coalition and the values and goals that we aspire to reach as a community.

But before we begin our awards ceremony, we first want to recognize those members of our community and our school communities who have contributed to bringing the vision of the Coalition to life and who we have lost these past several years.

We honor the life and legacy of Thomas Nikundiwe, who meant so much to so many in the movement to humanize education and whose loss was especially felt by his family and his extended James and Grace Lee Boggs School family.

We would also like to honor the life and legacy of Marriann Lupinacci, who was the Principal of John Paul II Catholic school, one of SEMIS’ first schools. Marriann was a gentle soul but also fierce in her efforts to love and support the well-being of her teachers and students and create a caring community in her school.

Finally we miss Steve Stewart. Steve directed the Great Lakes Education Project for Michigan Sea Grant and ran Sea Grant’s discovery cruises. When Steve and Justin and their crew took our students out onto the lakes, it was always a transformative experience. Steve made the Great Lakes come alive for us and our students.

We appreciate the efforts of Thomas, Marriann, and Steve to make the world a better place. We will miss you! We know you would have absolutely loved what is happening today and this week.

There may be other losses and legacies we feel here today. We ask you to please keep their memories alive by being your best self here today and as compassionate to your peers as they would have been if they were here today.

May 19, 2022.