Hattie M. Carstens Elementary

From National Register of Historic Places nomination, written by Deborah M. Goldstein, City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board:

“Carstens Elementary School, completed in 1916, was named after Hattie M. Carstens, an activist who served a variety of social causes in the city until her death in 1915. An addition in 1919 added six homerooms, a gymnasium, and an auditorium. A second addition, in 1921, added nine more homerooms. Several basement classrooms were added around 1960.” The school was described as "a superior example of a school building designed with Craftsman style influences from 1915."

By the 1990’s, the neighborhood around Carstens was in severe decline. Despite a lack of resources, school administrators and teachers put significant effort into improving the lives of their students. After several students were hospitalized with severe lead poisoning, Carstens began an outreach program educating families in the neighborhood about the dangers of lead paint in older houses. When teachers found out that many students were going hungry during weekends, they made extra meals for them to take home. A New York Times article noted “to have more money for instruction, teachers sit with students at lunch, saving the school from having to hire lunchroom aides. Teachers hold jacket and shoe drives for children who have no winter coats and come to school in slippers. At Thanksgiving every child goes home with a frozen turkey donated by a local businessman. Twice a year a bus carrying a portable dentist’s office arrives, and a clinic is set up at the school so children can get their teeth checked.”

The investment paid off, as Carstens became one of the higher performing schools in the district. Despite low enrollment numbers and high poverty rates, Carstens students performed higher on state tastes than some suburban schools. Still, by the late 2000’s, the number of students at the school had fallen from 776 in 1998 to just 339 in 2007. Though Carstens avoided the first waves of school closings in 2005 and 2007, the age of the building and its low number of students made it an obvious target when budget cuts came.

In March of 2010, the district proposed closing Carstens Elementary. The news came as a shock to parents and educators, who immediately mounted a campaign to keep the school open. In June, there were cheers when it was announced that Carstens had been removed from the list of schools to be closed, but the celebration was temporary. A year later, Carstens was again slated for closure, with an option to offer it as a charter school. With only 199 students and $3 million dollars in repairs needed to the school there were no takers. In May of 2011, Carstens Elementary closed and was merged into Remus Robinson Middle School, a mile to the south. The hope was to preserve the successful program, while housing it in a modern building.

With the closing of Carstens, McNair, and Hosmer Schools, the lower east side of Detroit has lost the anchors that keep neighborhoods intact.