State of Opportunity

Wednesday during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

State of Opportunity is a special project produced by Michigan Radio with major financial support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The project features documentary reports, first-person storytelling, youth journalists, an online portal, and Michigan Radio’s Public Insight Network.

The goal is to expose the barriers children of low income families in Michigan face in achieving success.



Families & Community
5:31 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

State of Opportunity special: Do we really have a plan for at-risk kids?

Jennifer White, Carl King and Zoe Clark prepare for a conversation about successful approaches to creating opportunity for at-risk youth.
Credit Michigan Radio

There's widespread recognition that education creates opportunity. But schools are often expected to provide much more than just education for kids struggling with poverty. So what are the effects of that expectation? Are kids getting watered-down educations and watered-down social services as schools struggle to do both? 

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Families & Community
6:00 am
Wed April 16, 2014

How do you get a kid out of a bad situation? Start with one person who cares.

Portrait of a family that overcame obstacles. Jamie Alexander, second from right, credits her Grandma Bobbie Lee, far right, with stepping in to help raise the kids when her mom, third from right, struggled through addiction.
Credit courtesy Jamie Alexander

Stories on State of Opportunity are all about ways to help disadvantaged kids find success in life. But when you meet a successful adult who grew up disadvantaged, they have a story that is like many others.

They didn’t get where they are by accident. They worked hard, of course, but usually, they also had some help.  And often, that help can be traced back to one person who decided to make a difference.

Today, we're starting an occasional series about the people who make that decision. We’re calling this series, "One Person Who Cared."  To share your own "One Person Who Cared" story, click here

I met Jamie Alexander a couple of years ago. She’s a social worker for a program in Grand Rapids called Strong Beginnings, which helps African-American moms have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

But on the car ride to one of her client’s homes, Alexander told me her own story.

"My mom was a drug addict, an alcoholic," Alexander said. "And my dad was not around."

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8:23 am
Wed April 9, 2014

What kids with disabilities bring to the classroom

"He would bless our school."
Zak Rosen


Bentley loves people. He’s usually wearing a big smile.  He’s a joy. But his mother, Adrienne Crawford, admits he’s a lot of work, too.

“I took a three-minute shower" the other day,  says Crawford. "And I came back and his bedroom was covered in baby powder. I don’t know why he did it.  I guess it looks fun, just pouring white powder on the floor.”

Bentley has Down syndrome.

Shortly after he was born, Crawford remembers reading a book that forecast everything that could possibly go wrong in her young son’s life.

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Families & Community
6:00 am
Wed April 2, 2014

New report says outcomes for African-American kids in Michigan are among the worst in the country

The Annie E. Casey Foundation created an index of child-well being indicators, broke the results down by race, then ranked each state. This chart represents scores for African-American child well-being. Michigan is all the way on the right, third worst in the nation.
Credit Annie E. Casey Foundation, Race for Results report


This week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a national report that caught our eye. 

The report is part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count series. Kids Count tracks a number of indicators – things like birthweight, school test scores, poverty level, and college attendance.

This new report includes 12 indicators in all, and they’ve been combined to come up with an index score for overall child outcomes. Those scores were then broken down by race, and each state was ranked.

For Michigan, there was a surprise. 

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Families & Community
6:00 am
Wed March 26, 2014

Home visiting programs for young children: solid benefits, not so solid funding

Credit flickr/_-o-_

Before Aurora Ducket was even born, her mom Angela signed up for every program she could.

"I did the MOMS program through Spectrum Health," she told me. "I really liked them a lot. They would come to my house. They would listen to the baby’s heartbeat. They would give me pamphlets upon pamphlets of what to expect, different things that I could do." 

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6:00 am
Wed March 19, 2014

What do you get when you ask teenagers to design an app? You get an awesome app

A group of Grand Rapids teenagers discusses their idea for a new app during class at the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The app design has been months in the making. But on this day – Thursday of last week – the teens are nervous. 

"And we’re scared because we have to present in front of a board of people," says Viviana Farfan, a sophomore at University Prep Academy in Grand Rapids. She’s sitting in the window-lit offices of the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology, or WMCAT. Next to her is her friend, Imani Akbar, both of them trying to avoid thinking about their presentation.  

"Have you guys, any of you ever done a presentation like this in front of a business person, a downtown development person?" I ask.

"No," says Akbar.

"Not at all," says Farfan.

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6:00 am
Wed March 12, 2014

Can the American Dream be revived?

Credit flickr/Matt Elsberry

The American Dream is an idea that has a long history in this country. For immigrants in the 1800s, America was seen as a land of opportunity, a place where anyone could achieve anything. All that was required was hard work.

There has been a lot of discussion among policymakers in the past few years about how to make the American Dream more of a reality. But at the same time, new research shows that opportunity in America hasn’t changed much in a long, long time. 

So, what does that research tell us about the policy of improving opportunity? 

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6:00 am
Wed March 5, 2014

Five months after students take MEAP, rest of Michigan learns what many teachers knew all along

Renee Howard, third-grade teacher at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids, coaches her students on writing.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Today we have an update from a story we brought you in January. For that story, a documentary we called "The Big Test," I spent six weeks following a third-grade class at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids. I watched as students got ready to take the state-mandated MEAP test for the first time. Students took the test in October. But the results of the test didn’t become public until last week.

So now, we're going back to Congress to see how students did.

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6:00 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Will better evaluations and more training help Michigan's teachers improve?

Teachers from Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids participate in the district's fall teacher development day.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Teacher evaluations have become a hot political topic in Michigan.

Chances are if you’ve heard anything about them, the discussion has been about how to use evaluations to get rid of poor-performing teachers.

But that's not the only way to use them. Teacher evaluations can be a tool to help teachers improve their craft. 

Now, Michigan legislators are considering changes that some say could help teachers do so. 

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Families & Community
7:40 am
Wed February 19, 2014

Could more lawyers make Michigan's child welfare system work better?

Credit Nancy Sims / Flickr

Michigan’s foster care system is the sixth-biggest in the country, with more than 13,000 kids around the state. The system has been plagued by problems over the last several years. 

Court monitors, appointed after the state was sued over the treatment of children in its foster care system, say the system has improved over the past few years, but it still falls short when it comes to keeping kids safe.

The court has also said the state needs to reduce the time children are in the system while they wait to be adopted or reunited with their families.

For every one of these 13,000 kids, there is a specific story behind what landed them in foster care in the first place or how their life unfolded afterward. The same can be said of their parents or the adults who stand in for parents. Many of these adults can feel just as trapped in the system as the children.

Vanessa Moss is one of those adults.  She had guardianship of some of her grandchildren for years. In all, she took care of four of her grandchildren. She stepped in because the children’s mother, Moss' daughter, has had serious mental and physical health issues.

When Moss began caring for her grandchildren, she didn't know much about, or want much to do with the child welfare system.  

"I don’t want my grandkids in the system." Moss says tearfully. "The only thing I wanted to do for my daughter was keep her kids all together."  

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