Last week, I spent a day at River Rouge High School, which sits just on the other side of Detroit's southwest border. Based on the statistics, River Rouge is one of the worst schools in the state.
That's not some vague assessment. The state of Michigan actually puts out an annual top-to-bottom ranking of schools and River Rouge High School is in the first percentile, meaning it scores lower than 99 percent of all the other schools in the state. Fewer than 10 percent of students at the school are considered "college ready" based on their ACT test scores across multiple subjects. Only about 60 percent even graduate high school on schedule.
During my day at the school, I got to roam the halls, sit in on multiple classes and talk to lots of people about the problems in the school. There are plenty of problems to talk about.
But that's not what I want to talk about right now. Because, it turns out that even in one of the worst schools in the state, there are plenty of students who are succeeding.
And here's one thing I learned at River Rouge: The successful students are really sick of hearing about all the problems.
The day I visited River Rouge High School also happened to be graduation day for seniors. I sat in the school's spacious auditorium as the parade of graduates marched down the steps, the boys in maroon caps and gowns, the girls in white.
They were surrounded by cheering family members, teachers and administrators. It was like every other high school graduation in the world.
Except that these students got here under a very different set of expectations.
"To many, I was a statistic," said class valedictorian Sarai Doss. "I was raised in a single-parent household in a not-so-great neighborhood in a not-so-great part of town. My mother birthed me at a young age, and we didn't have a lot of money. Conventional wisdom said I wouldn't make it."
The types of things that Doss was talking about are things that we talk about a lot here on State of Opportunity. We're trying to label the problems facing many kids.
But for students like Doss, it can feel like they're the ones being labeled.
And she's not having it.
"Sitting before you are young people who have overcome obstacles that you can never imagine, but they too have defied the odds and refused to let their dreams go," she said in her graduation speech. "Never let anyone stand in your way. Never let anyone say that you are less than. Never let anyone tell you you will never make it because you are poor, from the inner city or raised by a single parent."