A Charlotte Mason School Finds Its Permanent Home in Detroit

The private academy is settling down after 17 years
Charlotte Mason
Charlotte Mason Community School photograph courtesy of Field Gems Photography

From Southwest Detroit to Midtown to the city’s University District, Charlotte Mason Community School has encountered all the challenges you might expect a small nonprofit to weather, and then some. In its 17 years, the private, Christian, which offers the liberal arts-focused Charlotte Mason education to students in grades K-8, has had to rent shared space, navigate funding challenges, and relocate mid-year, due to building issues.

That will change next month when staff and students return to the school’s philosophy of living books, narration, and composer study in the first building CMCS has ever owned, located in Detroit’s Palmer Park neighborhood. Ahead of this big step, Hour Detroit caught up with Principal Ann Pattie to learn about the new space and how it will help CMCS flourish for years to come.

Hour Detroit: What are some core values to a Charlotte Mason education?

Anne Pattie: One of our highest values is our belief that children are born persons, and that they’re created in the image of God. They have inherent dignity, purpose, value, and worth. Therefore, children deserve our respect. This informs a lot of things that we do in our school; we would never use our authority to manipulate a child. We also think education should address a child as a whole. So that includes their physical, emotional, social, and spiritual growth in addition to their academic growth. Classes that often are extracurricular in schools are part of the regular curriculum here. In addition to science, history, math, and literature, we study art and music application and appreciation, nature, and a world language. Children also take drama and handcrafts. The offerings speak to our belief in the liberal arts and a broad curriculum.

How many students attend CMCS and where do they come from?

Our students are mostly Detroiters and they come from all over the city. We now have about 80 students in grades K-8 that come from the east and west sides, from the North End, from Midtown, and we have a handful of kids that come from the suburbs. 

Having the opportunity to finally put down roots, what most excites you about this location?

We are really excited about being close to Palmer Park. Nature study is a core part of our curriculum, and we’re thrilled to be able to have access to a wooded area within a large green space. Our new location is close to U of D Mercy, at Six and Woodward — an area of the city that has a cross-section of different neighborhoods. We like that diversity because we want to reach different types of families. We believe that having socioeconomic diversity in our school is a benefit for all children and their families.

Why did CMCS decide to buy its new building?

We gathered a group of stakeholders in the city who support our mission and invited them to advise us on the prospect of building ownership. They unanimously agreed this was an important next step for CMCS. The costs of renting a school building are exponentially more than owning. Building ownership will bring stability to our daily operations and finances. We’re very grateful to the churches that have hosted us throughout the years; they were generous and hospitable and played a major role in supporting our work. Here, we will be able to make modifications that serve students and support teachers. We ended up co-purchasing the building with a church called The Ark Detroit. Schools and churches are uniquely suited to share a space since their main hours of use are opposite of each other. This partnership benefits both organizations and helps free up resources to concentrate our efforts on serving the community.

How will the new building support the school’s teaching philosophy?

In our new building, we have the opportunity to grow to full capacity. Our vision is to have one classroom per grade level in grades K-8 with 12 students in each grade. Small class size is very important to us because we think relationships are important. The new space will allow us to fully implement the Charlotte Mason teaching philosophy — building ownership allows us the autonomy over the space that we did not have as renters. Our building was originally a Greek Orthodox church built in the 1950s and the previous owners took great care of it. It has the perfect number of classrooms. There’s a beautiful chapel, with stained glass windows and a dome, which we’ll use for school recitals, assemblies, and chapel. There’s a really beautiful gym which we haven’t had in over five years.