If you haven't heard it yet, tune it to Lindsey Smiths's series on how kids are faring in Muskegon Heights. Muskegon Heights is the first place in the state to turn all its public schools over to a charter company, Mosaica Education.
What I'm about to tell you is a business story; a business story about adorable four year olds.
We've talked a lot about the early childhood development on this blog and in our stories, with a special emphasis on the importance of preschool for kids at-risk of school failure. Michigan ranks 24th in terms of how many of its four-year olds attend preschool. We're behind states like Georgia, Louisiana and Arkanasas. But that could start to change thanks, in part, to help from an unlikely group.
State of Opportunity started broadcasting this July, so we only have half a year of reporting under our belts. But we’re going to use the end of the year as a chance to take a look back and try to create a vision for the next year nonetheless.
When we stared this project the idea was that there are some issues we’re just not talking about as a state; and they are poverty, children and how the deck may be stacked for or against a kid from the instant they begin to grow in their mothers bellies. These things will make or break Michigan’s collective future. But we don’t talk about it because it can be challenging, or sad, or just awkward.
We have reported stories this year that do have some of those moments, but we’ve also reported your stories, told you things you might not have known, and connected you with people and places you knew little about.
If you haven’t yet traveled this road with us it’s o.k., jump right on board now.
Over our three years we’ll journey with kids from before they are born until they become adults. But right now we’re focused on moms, babies, and preschoolers.
Here’s where our reporting has taken us so far:
We’ve learned a ton about kids’ brains and how early matters big. Just how big? Jennifer Guerra reported differences in kids brains caused by a lack of opportunity can start showing up as early as 18 months-old ,and can impact success for a lifetime. And there are four more just as stunning truths where that came from.
A supported pregnancy can really boost the odds for even the most at-risk kids and their parents.
If we don’t take risks to maternal and infant health seriously the consequences are dire. Michigan’s infant mortality rate, meaning the number of children who die before they can reach age one, is shockingly high. Jen Guerra brought some of these stories to light in a way that was fascinating, touching, and troubling.
Schools in Michigan have taken extraordinary steps in ensuring student safety since the Newtown tragedy. Over 30 schools in the state have shutdown schools for at least two days amidst fears of violence, student-led revolts, and doomsday predictions of a Mayan Apocalypse. Recently, a teenager at Millington High School was charged with a felony threat of terrorism charge for making threats against students and staff. Are these actions necessary or are school officials overreacting?
Predictions of doomsday have come and gone repeatedly without coming true. But the latest prophecy, tethered to the Mayan calendar and forecasting that the world will self-destruct on Friday, has prompted many rumors of violence, with a particular focus on school shootings or bomb threats.
The military's strong culture creates opportunities for sharing resources to help families through stressful times, but the military has been criticized for not offering a more formal structure of support.
I met up with a group of military wives at an empty VFW post in Lansing. Kimberly Sucheck is a charismatic brassy blond former cop called "Madea" by her teenager after the outsize Tyler Perry character.
Sucheck is a military wife. Her husband has been in the Army National Guard for well over a decade. She brought four other women with husbands in the military together so I could ask them about what it's like to raise kids when your life is entwined with the military.
Each of their husbands have at least two deployments under their belts. Some of their husbands are getting ready for another deployment to Afghanistan, including Kerri Gallagher. She has four children who have been through deployments before, but she said it’s still hard and confusing.
It explores a study that finds our brains, not just our emotions, react to the homeless with "disgust." This happens in part because we see them as very different from ourselves. Then, with the help of our brains we build up our tolerance for seeing suffering among these people. We rarely feel empathy for them.
I know you don't want to read this any more than I want to write it.
The point of State of Opportunity is to talk about how we can improve life for our most vulnerable children. We talk about education, we talk about health, we talk about public policy. We have not yet talked much about violence. I wish we didn't have to.
What happened in Newtown is incomprehensible. We are left only with grief.
And yet we know that what happened in Newtown is not rare. Mass shootings, we hear about all the time. Children victimized by violence, we try not to think about.
But the sad reality is children are murdered every day in America. Consider these statistics, compiled from reports by the CDC and the Congressional Research Service:
By now you might have heard about Newark Mayor Cory Booker's food stamp challenge. It all started on Twitter, where Booker engaged in a debate over the government's role in preventing hunger. The debate ended in Booker agreeing to live off of food stamps for one week, spending roughly $33 on food. This article praises Booker for his advocacy but cautions Americans and government officials not to lose sight of a more important goal: getting Americans out of poverty.
Back when I was an elementary school teacher in Compton, California, I always kept a supply of snacks in my classroom: A box of Cheerios, apples and oranges, Pop Tarts, a canister of raisins, juice boxes, and granola bars.