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My name is Natae Penn and I will be the school leader at Orchard Academy. I have over 20 years of experience in education. I have a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in teaching from Wayne State University. I am a certified teacher and administrator. I have taught as well as tutored students in kindergarten through sixth grade. I was a lead teacher for grades K-2 and a math instructional coach for grades K-8. I have over 10 years of experience in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Over the years, I have built and developed a successful curriculum and assessment system that has improved instruction, test scores and provided professional development to teachers. 

My entire educational career has been in the city of Detroit. I am passionate about working with students in urban areas. I believe that the students in the city of Detroit deserve a high-quality education with an abundance of resources and a facility that supports and provides a conducive learning environment. I believe all students need and want to learn, and I also believe in educating the “whole child” – family included. It is so important to address a child’s social-emotional needs as well as academic needs in order to produce a successful learning environment. I believe that supplying parents with the support they need to be successful partners in their child’s educational career is essential. 

Students need to be active participants in learning. The best way to engage students is to have a solid classroom management plan and well-planned lessons that are grounded in relevant, purposeful activities designed to enhance students’ knowledge and skills. Teachers should be strongly aligned with student-centered and student-directed learning that embraces exploration, discovery, experiential learning and targets students’ learning needs. A curriculum centered on social-emotional learning and character development will not only increase student achievement, but will also develop lifelong learners and problem solvers.

It has always been a dream of mine to lead a school that will provide young Detroiters with a top-notch, high-quality education that will influence the lives of people for years to come. My passion for education motivates me to achieve and strive for academic excellence. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead Orchard Academy and to provide a unique and innovative option for students.

In the 26 years since legislation was enacted allowing charter public schools like Orchard Academy to open their doors in Michigan, there has been a good deal of confusion about what charter public schools are and what benefits they offer to students. So what is a charter public school, and what are the advantages of enrolling your child in one? 

Children reading together

Institutions of Excellence

Charter public schools are independently-operated public schools that offer students of all abilities access to a free, quality education regardless of their zip code, race, or socioeconomic status. Charter public schools adhere to all the state oversight requirements that traditional public schools must follow, including certified teachers, special education, state testing, and health code adherence.

Every charter public school in the state of Michigan operates under contract with an authorizer -- usually a university, but always a legislatively-recognized public educational entity: universities, community colleges, intermediate school districts, or local public school districts. Orchard Academy received its authorization from Central Michigan University. Established in response to the 30,000 children in Detroit that leave the city each day to attend schools in other districts, Orchard Academy’s founders were inspired to create a school of excellence within the city of Detroit. In 2019, all members of Orchard Academy’s School Board were sworn in as appointed public officials.

Like all charter public schools in Michigan, Orchard Academy is registered with the Michigan Department of Education. Because charter public schools often work with external vendors including management companies and service providers in a way that’s similar to traditional public schools working with external vendors, these partnerships sometimes create confusion. It’s important to know that a charter public school’s relationships with external for-profit vendors that are both for-profit and nonprofit have no impact on its nonprofit status.

Supportive Community Funding

Similar to traditional public schools, charter public schools receive funding from the state to cover the general operating expenses of student instruction. However, not only do charter public schools often receive less money per student than their traditional counterparts for instruction, they receive no funding from the state for their facilities, technology, sports fields, and other property-taxed items. 

To make up those differences, charter public schools often rely on grants and donations from individuals, foundations, and nonprofits. Orchard Academy is thankful for the generosity of organizations like the recently-created Mission and Purpose Foundation and the Skilling and Andrews Foundation. Their philanthropic support has empowered the academy to provide children in Detroit’s North End with learning facilities that are custom-designed with the health and safety of every student in mind.

In 2019, Orchard Academy was also awarded the competitive federal Charter School Program Grant, which will provide $1,000,000 in funding over the next three years. The academy also received $150,000 in donations in 2019 and commitments to donate the same amount in 2020 -- assisting the school in its vision to instill in each child a sense of mission and purpose in life. 

Innovative Academic Solutions

An important advantage of charter public schools is their flexibility and commitment to providing innovative educational opportunities for students. Because charter public schools are independently-operated, they enjoy greater autonomy and have the freedom to replace the typical one-size-fits-all model with innovative teaching solutions and classrooms that are designed specifically to meet children where they are. 

At Orchard Academy, we utilize the Stockwell Model to provide children of all learning abilities with individualized instruction, empowering students to meet high expectations at their own pace. The innovative educational method, modeled after the high-performing Charyl Stockwell Academy in Hartland, focuses on educating the “whole child.” The school’s teaching staff sets high standards for academic success, guiding students to achieve excellence through continuous progress mastery learning while encouraging students to develop strong values and moral character.


Diversity by Design

Breaking down racial and socioeconomic barriers is yet another advantage of attending public charter schools. According to data from the Center for Educational Performance and Information, last year 67% of charter students in Michigan were minorities, compared to the total state average of 34%.

Orchard Academy’s commitment to “diversity by design” honors the incredible diversity of the Metro Detroit area. We welcome students of all abilities from the city and its surrounding suburbs to learn together in a safe, inclusive academic environment that eliminates the barriers to education and social mobility sometimes found in socioeconomically-divided school districts. Similarly, our diverse mixed-age classrooms encourage relationship-building and friendships among peers across a wide range of backgrounds.

Orchard Academy looks forward to providing students of all abilities a tuition-free, quality education in Detroit’s North End in the years to come. We’re currently enrolling students for kindergarten-2nd grade for the 2021-2022 school year. If you’re interested in learning more about enrollment, please contact our Head of School Natae Penn at

If you would like to make a contribution to the Mission and Purpose Foundation to support Orchard Academy’s vision of providing students in Detroit with a path for life, please contact Mary Kay Shields at


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Stockwell Model

Every educator understands that children have different ways of learning. While some students learn more quickly and are considered academically gifted, others need to learn at a slower pace. Regardless of where a student falls within the gradient of learning ability, it’s important that the education they receive is adequate to meet their individual needs. 

At Orchard Academy, we’re happy to welcome students of every skill level and learning style, including those with learning disabilities. Our teachers are specially trained in the Stockwell Method of education, emphasizing the importance of meeting students where they are and helping them achieve excellence on their own terms.


What Is The Stockwell Model?

Developed 25 years ago by Chuck Stockwell, a former elementary school principal and educator with a background in both special education and general education, the Stockwell Model was based on observations made while working with students of varying skill levels and abilities in a traditional academic setting.

“Our whole philosophy is built around a theory: Learning failure is caused by a mismatch between instructional demands and learning readiness. Measuring failure occurs when you ask a child to do something they’re not ready to do -- they don’t have enough prior skills,” Stockwell explains.


Suited For All Abilities

Because the Stockwell Model utilizes mixed-age classrooms and relies on daily evaluations by multiple teachers, the educational technique meets students where they are in terms of ability and education while offering each child an opportunity to learn at their own pace in a safe, inclusive environment. 

“Some kids might be really good in literature or reading but not arithmetic,” Stockwell explains. To combat those inequities, the Stockwell Model utilizes a Continuous Progress Mastery Learning approach. As teachers shift classes throughout the day, students have a chance to overcome their own personal obstacles at a pace that meets each child’s individual needs.

The Stockwell Model aims to have all students, including those with special academic needs, reading at the appropriate grade level by the end of third grade. To accommodate each child’s academic and physical needs and ensure that every student has the tools to succeed, Orchard Academy employs part-time supplemental staff as needed.

“If you’re going to help kids succeed, you’re going to have to have different kinds of experiences for different kids,” Stockwell says. In terms of daily coursework, the traditional letter grading system is avoided in favor of daily evaluations to understand where students are excelling and where they need more work. 


Meet Them Where They're At!

At the Charyl Stockwell Academy in Hartland, Michigan -- the school after which Orchard Academy is modeled -- Stockwell says, “We often get kids that are on the verge of going into special education [programs] and by meeting them where they’re at, we correct that problem.”

In addition to being beneficial to students with special needs and learning disabilities, Stockwell says his educational model can also be beneficial to students that are academically gifted. “Kids get bored because they don’t have the challenges they need, and they can get through work quickly and sometimes get in trouble because they’re not doing things the other kids are doing,” Stockwell explains. As a child’s skills and abilities advance, students are offered the flexibility to move ahead into more advanced coursework and areas of study.

“We’re not trying to get the kid to fit into the curriculum,” Stockwell says. “We’re trying to get the curriculum to fit into the kid.”


Inspiration From Montessori

Drawing inspiration from Montessori’s model of education, the Stockwell Model also takes a strong developmental approach. Coursework and materials are organized in ways that naturally progress into the next lesson or skill that needs to be learned, focusing on cognitive development over time from kindergarten until graduation.

With an emphasis on educating the “whole child,” physical progress is also a feature of the Stockwell Model. Daily outdoor activities are incorporated into the school’s daily curriculum, and a full competitive sports program begins in middle school, emphasizing mastery of motor skills.

Social and emotional mastery is also important in the “whole child” approach, with educators taking the time to teach children how to get along and cooperate with each other in the classroom.

“A lot of kids come to school with no readiness for that kind of order in their lives,” Stockwell says. “So we really look at helping kids get along with each other and learn who they are, what they’re about, what they’re good at. This leads to the formation of their personal identity and their personality.”

The Stockwell Model also emphasizes character development as part of its “whole child” approach to education, with educators working diligently to encourage good moral character and strong values in all students, regardless of age, skill level, or learning ability -- providing students with a strong foundation and a path for life.

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During a normal school week, almost 30,000 children leave Detroit each morning to attend schools in districts outside the city. In response to that daily exodus, Orchard Academy was founded with a mission of establishing a school of excellence in Detroit where students could learn and grow in a safe, healthy and inclusive environment.

In response to the unanticipated challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools are now closed in Michigan until at least fall and parents have found themselves in a state of uncertainty about the future of their children’s education.

As Orchard Academy prepares to welcome new students from inside and outside the city this spring for enrollment for the coming school year, we understand the importance of making sure parents and students feel safe in their decision to attend our academy.

As a new school in Detroit, the health and safety of our students is our highest priority. We are currently in the process of establishing detailed health and safety protocols for the coming school year, closely following all guidance issued by the CDC while working together with local medical experts and health agencies to create the safest possible environment for students to learn in this fall. In order to ensure a safe opening, the academy will be implementing strict social distancing facilitated through the limited enrollment of K-2 students for the first year of operation in an effort to reduce the potential for the spread of illness.

Orchard Academy is also consulting with local medical professionals and security consultants to ensure that our new building, currently under construction in Detroit’s North End neighborhood, is custom-designed with the health, safety and security of our students in mind.

The Benefits of Enrolling In Orchard Academy
Although it’s undeniable that the pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for education, Corey Northrup, executive director of the Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University, says there are clear benefits to enrolling at a school like Orchard Academy.

Just one of the many advantages charter public schools can frequently extend to potential students and families is their size. On one hand, it allows schools the ability to be nimble and still innovate while not sacrificing quality, even during the most challenging times,” Northrup says. “It also lets schools customize learning to better care for each individual student, both within and outside of the classroom. Starting right now and most certainly into the future, these things will be more essential than ever before. When in-person instruction can safely begin again, schools like Orchard Academy will be uniquely equipped to provide an individualized learning experience that meets each child’s distinctive set of needs.”

Education Heroes
Teachers are also leading the way through the pandemic, coming up with creative ways to keep students actively interested and engaged in their education.

“One thing we’ve seen this spring, especially in the charter schools in Michigan, is that the innovation and flexibility that has come out has been pretty amazing,” says Buddy Moorehouse, Vice President of Public Relations and Media at MAPSA: Michigan’s Charter School Association. “Teachers have been given the freedom and flexibility to reinvent how they do certain things, and it’s been really encouraging to see that they’ve stepped up in a huge way. … They’ve really come up with some innovative, flexible, and very creative ideas to continue educating kids remotely.”

Positioned To Catch Up
Although remote education has certainly become a useful tool for schools and teachers during the statewide shelter-in-place response to COVID-19, the disparities between student access to internet access and remote education has been a concern for educators. As schools in Michigan prepare for a return to in-person learning in the coming school year, we understand that students in almost every classroom statewide will need to catch up on their educational progress due to those disparities.

Orchard Academy’s unique Stockwell Model of education, designed with a focus on continuous progress and mastery that allows students to move through the curriculum at their own pace, will offer our students the opportunity to catch up on the portions of their education they may have missed due to school closures or disparities in access to technology.

Diversity By Design
Our school’s commitment to “diversity by design” will also lend itself to the continued success of each child, allowing our students to build positive relationships with peers outside of their own socio-economic background while developing healthy habits of mind and learning to make smart character choices.

At Orchard Academy, we understand that parents are grappling with deep uncertainties during these difficult times. We want to assure the families of our prospective students that we are committed to their children’s health and safety, and we are doing everything possible to make sure we live up to our goal of educating the “whole child” in a safe, inclusive environment within the city of Detroit.

The staff and educators at Orchard Academy are excited to welcome our new students and their families into our tight-knit community in Detroit’s North End, and we look forward to meeting you in the coming school year.

For more information about enrolling at Orchard Academy, visit our website at

For more information about our response to COVID-19 and plans for a safe opening of the school this coming school year, click here

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The COVID-19 pandemic has touched countless lives across the globe, creating unprecedented challenges for people of all ages, and from every walk of life. With schools across Michigan closed until at least fall, the education community has been no exception as parents, teachers and administrators are now faced with a deeply uncertain timeline for the continued education of students. 

At Orchard Academy, the health and safety of our students are of the utmost importance. Our administration is actively communicating with local health professionals, closely following all guidance from local, state, and federal health agencies, and taking every possible precaution to ensure that students will have access to a safe, healthy learning environment when they return to school this fall.

As we begin to welcome new students for enrollment for the coming school year, keeping parents and families informed about our safety measures, policies and procedures are one of Orchard Academy’s highest priorities as we navigate this unprecedented situation together.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Interim Guidance for Administrators of US K-12 Schools and Child Care Programs, providing new guidelines on what to expect for the year ahead. Under that guidance, Orchard Academy plans to open as scheduled in September upon approval from all relevant local, state and federal agencies.

As the school awaits additional recommendations from the newly-formed Return to Learning Advisory Council, a task force created last week by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to advise on the safe reopening of the state’s schools this fall, Orchard Academy is also working in consultation with Dr. Donald Levine, an infectious disease specialist in Detroit.

“Ideally, once you’re in a classroom setting, the optimal situation would be to have everybody wearing a mask, including the teachers and staff,” says Dr. Levine. “... Distancing would also be important, with a minimum of six feet between each person.” He adds that proper handwashing is critical to limit the spread of germs, in addition to screening students and staff for symptoms each day.

Although Dr. Levine says COVID-19 guidance for schools may change before fall as medical researchers learn more about the virus, he stresses the importance of continually adhering to all guidelines issued by the CDC as they are updated.

Closely following the current CDC guidelines, Orchard Academy is developing plans and procedures for the ongoing monitoring and screening of symptoms in students and staff, including the possible installation of infrared cameras for fever detection. Upon arrival to school each morning, students and staff will be screened. We encourage all employees and students that are experiencing symptoms of illness to stay at home, and will be working to develop flexible leave policies to support that protocol. Special protocols will also be developed for children and employees that are at a higher risk for severe illness. Students will maintain recommended social distancing at all times, and will eat lunch and snacks in their classrooms while practicing proper handwashing.

Orchard Academy is fortunate to begin its first school year in a brand new building in Detroit’s North End neighborhood. While the new location remains under construction, it has been custom-designed with the health and security of our students in mind. We intend to continually implement best practices for cleaning, disinfection and ventilation to prevent the spread of infection. Touchless sinks equipped with touchless soap dispensers will be available for every classroom, and face coverings will be worn by educators and students as necessary under the guidance of local health officials. All employees will be provided with extensive training about the school’s health and safety protocols prior to opening.

For the first year of operation, in an effort to reduce exposure and transmission of COVID-19, Orchard Academy will encourage social distancing through a limited K-2 structure, allowing a reduced enrollment capacity of only 65 students. Next year, when allowed by local health authorities, the school will expand enrollment to the regular K-12 structure, allowing for the normal capacity of 150 students. In addition to limited enrollment and social distancing, the school will also implement a plan to limit the risks associated with exposure to the virus under the guidance of local health agencies.

We understand that parents need to feel confident that their children will return safely home from school each day. Because today’s safety environment includes risks that extend beyond health, Orchard Academy has also worked with a local security consultant to develop a plan for campus safety. Our new building will be equipped with electronically-controlled touchless doors connected to the school’s fire system, which will open automatically in the event of a fire or similar emergency. The school will also be equipped with secured lobbies, and security guards will be on duty during school hours to ensure that students remain on campus and that outside visitors are not able to enter the building without permission.

In spite of the unprecedented situation we have all been faced with, Orchard Academy remains committed to our mission of educating the “whole child.” Our students’ health and safety are of the highest priority to us. Working together with local agencies and experts, we are dedicated to creating a healthy, inclusive space where your child can safely learn with us this fall.

For updates about this developing situation, please visit our website at

For more information about COVID-19 and schools, visit the CDC's Guidance for Schools.  

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