DPSCD Launches New Detroit History Curriculum for K-5 Students

Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) is releasing its new Detroit History curriculum for students in grades Kindergarten through fifth-grade in February, just in time for Black History Month. Students will learn how the city was built as well as learn about the sacrifices, achievements, and key historical events, such as the great fire of 1805.

“The sense of urgency behind this initiative was to ensure that our students understood the history of their city, which is directly linked to their identity,” said Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent, DPSCD. “That history is powerful with examples of achievement and struggle. Too often the teaching of history negates the local context and the immediate experiences of our families and neighborhoods. Local history makes learning relevant and empowering. It activates citizenship!”

Each unit has been carefully designed with the help of District teachers, staff and community partners and parents. Teachers will receive specialized manuals, student materials, accompanying lesson materials, and professional development. Over the course of the unit, students will complete between 6 and 10 lessons. In addition, lessons in grades three and five have direct connections toCultural Passport trips, allowing a deeper level of engagement for teachers and students.

"I'm thrilled that Detroit Public Schools Community District has carried out the vitally important effort to include more local history in lesson plans and ultimately in its curriculum,” said Ken Coleman, DPSCD Parent. “As I've mentioned to Dr. Vitti in the past, it's imperative that children like my son, Jackson, have an opportunity to benefit from knowing more about their community.”

It is the vision of the District to develop a Detroit History unit for every grade over the course of the next two years, providing an opportunity for DPSCD students to develop an understanding of the rich and complex City in which they call home.

Below are lesson overviews for each grade level. 


Detroit History Topics




Compelling Question

Unit Overview


Detroit-Past, Present & Future

How has Detroit changed?

This unit will look at Detroit’s roads, modes of transportation, and population. Students will engage with maps, pictographs, and pictures to help them answer how Detroit has changed and imagine a sense of what it could be.



Detroit Family Life: Then and Now

Where do families make memories in Detroit?

First-graders will explore life in the past and the present in the city of Detroit. Students will learn about significant places and activities Detroit families enjoyed in years past and compare those to places and activities Detroit families enjoytoday. Through the examination of photographs, brochures, flyers, and video, students identify similarities and differences in family activities in the city of Detroit – past and present.


History of Detroit Neighborhoods

What makes a neighborhood?

While examining a given neighborhood, students will seek to answer the questions: How has the neighborhood changed? How has the neighborhood stayed the same? Who lives in, works in, and/or visits a neighborhood? Their findings over the course of the unit will serve as evidence to support the answer to the compelling question. Students will conclude the unit by imagining what a select Detroit neighborhood could look like in the future. Students will have to use evidence on how neighborhoods grow and change to support their work.


The History of Early Detroit

How are Detroiters resilient people?

Over the course of this unit, students will learn about the founding of the city, it’s early growth, and how it rebuilt itself after the Great Fire in 1805. Students will use early maps of the city, images, and excerpt to learn about life in early Detroit, challenges faced by early Detroiters, and explore the theme of resilience as it relates to the city and its people.


The People of Detroit 

Who makes Detroit, Detroit?

Over the course of the unit, students will examine the push and pull factors that brought specific groups of people to Detroit. Through the analysis of primary sources, students will work to answer the question “Who makes Detroit, Detroit?” Students will analyze documents and listen to the stories of immigrants and migrants to answer questions such as: Why do people move? How do people decide where to settle? How do people help shape a city? Ultimately, students will use evidence to make a claim about the people who define Detroit. 


Untold Stories of the Early Detroit

Who built Detroit?

This unit will explore two major concepts: the life of enslaved and free Africans in early Detroit, and their contributions to the development of the city, and the life of indigenous people in early Detroit. Students will explore various accounts of history and other primary sources to help them answer the question: Who built Detroit?