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Detroit Achievement Academy

15000 Southfield
Detroit, Michigan 48223

Kyle Smitley

By Amanda Lewan
November 8, 2013

Social entrepreneurship is on the mind of a lot of innovators these days, but not all entrepreneurs go from running a multi-million-dollar socially responsible business to diving head first into the field they are giving back to. Kyle Smitley, the energetic 28-year-old transplant to Detroit, did just that. Kyle transitioned from running her own clothing company that donated profits back to youth to founding an academy in Detroit.
"I remember thinking we’re the future of the country. I wanted to do something that felt real and significant," says Kyle, describing a pivotal moment she experienced while at a dinner at the White House. In this moment she began to feel that running a business wasn’t the best way she could give back to youth.
Kyle was a law student at University of Toledo when she started her business Barley & Birch, an apparel company that grew to a multi-million-dollar corporation. The business donated over half of their profits to youth organizations. While traveling, Kyle first began to consider the idea of opening a school.
"My company had given money to a really incredible school in Chicago and invited me to come visit. I saw a bunch of kids that were homeless or hungry, but they were more charming and brilliant than I ever was," says Kyle.
The school she visited was the Academy of Global Citizens, and it became the inspiration for what would eventually become the Detroit Achievement Academy.
Kyle had always spent her summers in Detroit with her family. Born and raised in Ohio, she would visit the "big city" to go to Tiger’s games. Even though she traveled all over the country, Kyle felt like Detroit always fascinated her. As she toyed with the idea of starting a different type of school, she began to research Detroit’s educational system. The charter schools in Detroit that Kyle saw were all for-profit entities. Detroit Achievement Academy is one of the first not-for-profit charter schools in Detroit.
The Detroit Achievement Academy can be found at 15000 Southfield in Detroit in the Grandmont-Rosedale neighborhood. Kyle has hired experienced teachers to teach kindergarten and first grade, with plans to add a new grade every year.
What really sets this school apart isn’t just the energetic young leader; it’s the model and curriculum followed. The school teaches youth through creative problem solving and project-based learning, a model known as expeditionary learning. The kids, for example, will learn how to draw a snake and write a poem, but will also master common core standards along the way.
"It’s like sneaking the vegetables into the cake," says Kyle. But you won’t find cake here too often. Healthy eating is served up in each of the three meals per day. Detroit Achievement Academy doesn’t allow processed sugar in their foods, and serves meals made from organic and often locally-grown food. Once a week for an hour the students learn about the food they are eating, too.
The results have been a very engaged group of students, says Kyle. She couldn’t be more thrilled.
"It’s amazing! We tested our kids and they’re all in the [bottom] 10% for math. The past six weeks we have worked and worked on behavior and engagement, and a few weeks ago a light just flipped [for] these kids," says Kyle. "They’re kind, and bright, and respectful."
With a bright and motivated leader like Kyle Smitley, we can only expect to see more successful grades added to Detroit Achievement Academy.

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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