Henry Ford Early College English Teacher Starts Publishing Company

Photo courtesy Yousef Alqamoussi

Within the Henry Ford Early College (HFEC) School of Education program, Yousef Alqamoussi - also known as WORD MAN - teaches 10th and 11th grade language arts. He is an author, educator, publisher, and owner of WORD MAN Press, a local publishing house.

Alqamoussi explained that he worked with his language arts students to transform their classroom into a publishing house. “We called it Free Press, and it is an extension of our school’s literary magazine program,” said Alqamoussi.

Alqamoussi noted that his reasoning for starting Free Press was that quick advancement in technology and innovation in the modem day has made it difficult for schools to keep up, which means students are “less and less prepared to meet the challenges they will face after they graduate.”

“Using my experience and expertise in authoring and publishing, I wanted to encourage hands-on experiences for students in my classroom so that they could see the practical applications of the language arts in modem American business and society,” said Alqamoussi.

Starting from scratch, Alqamoussi and his students “brainstormed ideas, drafted contracts, held interviews” and divided the class into seven departments: Creating, Editing, Manufacturing and Design, Marketing, Sales, Accounting, and Administration. Alqamoussi noted, “Each department is assigned a group leader by vote or appointment, and each team works on a branch of the publishing process.”

Zakiyyah Dollen is a student of Alqamoussi, as well as a member of Free Press. “We’re essentially a publishing company run by students for students. We publish different works such as literature and art, and plan on branching out into producing other works like podcasts,” Dollen stated.

Dollen was initially reluctant to participate in the business, being afraid of change and failure, stating, “Starting this business guided me through trying out things that are outside of my comfort zone. I was able to break away from my fear of change and difference, and I’m very happy that I was able to go through this experience. I was able to find the role that fit best for me in our company after multiple trials and errors.”

Now, Dollen takes on the roles of manufacturer and designer. “We hold the responsibility of designing the books produced as well as manually creating them,” Dollen said. Their first printed product was a manuscript titled “MONEY” by WORD MAN.

Dollen is able to balance the workload by organizing what she needs to get done into tasks. She solely works during “business hours.”

“After I have my work schedule and I have my agenda set, I work on completing those tasks during my class period and/or during my free hours in school,” said Dollen, “I try not to mix in business life at home so that I don’t feel extra stressed or overwhelmed.”

“I do my best to let students run the business on their own. I’m available to facilitate and support throughout the different steps,” Alqamoussi said. “As is natural in business, conflicts and challenges arise. When they do, I try to mediate the issues individually and collectively.”

According to Dollen, the company originally faced communication challenges, with multiple administrators telling students different things and administering different requests.

“That really made people annoyed and overwhelmed,” said Dollen, “However, we were fortunately able to come up with a few solutions that helped better our communication.”

For digital work, the students took on an application named “Notion,” and transitioned into using Google Classroom. Dollen added, “Then in class, we set up a system for hardcopy work which consists of three baskets labeled ‘Needs Editing,’ ‘Edited,’ and ‘Final Product.”’

The team holds regular meetings, where they sit in a circle to discuss challenges and solutions. “I try to ensure that we are all working together toward a common goal of publishing student work for our readership,” said Alqamoussi.

Dollen noted that the key to their business is consistent content and standardization.

Initially, she manufactured the publications without a general standard or template.

“We came to the conclusion that in order to please your customers, you have to set a template for whatever you publish - that way your work comes out fresh, organized, and 100 percent every time. By template, that includes, page size, page number, textual font, text size,” said Dollen, “Consistency is key!”

“Let’s be clear: it’s not that we’re doing different things; we’re just doing things differently,” stated Alqamoussi. He explained how Free Press is a supplement to the teaching in his classroom, and that all normal standards and curriculum are still being met.

“Our objectives are aligned with CCSS (Common Core State Standards) standards. We employ all five of the language arts toward learning outcomes. We collaborate, facilitate, and assess progress formatively and summatively. Students are learning cooperatively, and SEL/SIOP (social and emotional learning/Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) standards are included,” said Alqamoussi.

“Running a company in a classroom is a whole different atmosphere than your traditional classroom. I honestly learned more about business from this ‘English class’ than I have in my economics class,” Dollen said.

Dollen explained how skills learned in her language arts class were being implemented into her everyday life, “I think producing the final product, viewing it as a whole as a class, and knowing we can produce a profit from what we created is the most enjoyable part of this business.”

“I’ve honestly learned a lot from this experience including life skills, knowledge about business and how the system works, the structure and roles, and very importantly to start,” said Dollen, “This experience can definitely assist me in the future because I know the basic steps to start a business and I can implement the skills of role setting and organization into other aspects of my life.”