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.



7:00 am
Wed July 23, 2014

Detroit kids go to camp to do things they can't do in the city

Detroit students get to practice archery at Camp Burt Shurly.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

This week on State of Opportunity, we’re going to summer camp!

I spent this past Monday with about 100 elementary school students at Camp Burt Shurly, a 250-acre campground near Chelsea. The week-long, overnight camp is run by the Detroit Public School district. Each Sunday a new set of campers arrives by bus. There's tons to do here – everything from boating and swimming to arts and crafts, nature hikes and archery. And because the camp is run by a school district, the campers have to take math and English classes, too, to help combat the "summer slide" many kids face.

Camp is paid for with Title 1 funds, so it's free for DPS students, many of whom might not be able to afford camp otherwise. 

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7:00 am
Wed July 16, 2014

Teaching students how to switch between Black English and Standard English can help them get ahead

Credit user: frankjuarez / flickr

Last week we did a story about whether people judge others based on how they speak. (Spoiler alert: Yep, they do.) One African-American high school student we spoke to said he hated how often teachers corrected him when he spoke. "Every time you try to say something they gotta correct every line you say. It's like ... I don't want to talk to you now."

University of Michigan education professor Holly Craig says that type of "correctional" teaching style is a sure-fire way to turn African American students off from education, and the results play out time and again in standardized test scores for African-American students. 

Across the country, black students consistently lag behind their white peers on standardized tests. Experts have been trying to come up with ways to shrink the achievement gap for decades, but it’s still there. Craig and a team of researchers thinks teaching kids how to code switch at an early age can go a long way reducing the gap. 

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7:00 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Do we judge people on the way they speak?

Credit user dbphotography / flickr

It’s not hard to find an example of people being judged because of the way they speak.

Take the George Zimmerman trial. The primary witness for the prosecution was a young African American woman named Rachel Jeantel. She was Trayvon Martin’s friend and was on the phone with him the day he died. You can listen to some of her testimony here.

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Families & Community
5:37 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

U of M's long-running economic mobility survey to add new generation of kids to the mix

Credit user: jdurham / morgueFILE

We're data geeks here at State of Opportunity. And there's a treasure trove of data (and more to come!) housed at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. The Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) has been around since 1968 and is the longest-running household panel survey in the world. We're talking tens of thousands of data points from more than 70,000 individuals over more than four decades. 

Researchers have mined PSID data for all kinds of economic mobility studies. My colleague Dustin Dwyer blogged about it back in 2012 before he went to a U of M conference where social scientists presented their findings using PSID data across three generations: 

I've already had a chance to look at some of the papers that will be presented, and there are some tantalizing findings. Jean Yeung of the National University of Singapore and two co-authors from New York University looked at the black-white achievement gap across three generations. They found evidence that discrimination in the grandparent's generation had an impact on children's outcomes decades later.

Other papers look at the effects of extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins – to see how they affect economic mobility in other countries.  

And now there's a new generation to add to the mix. All of the children in the original cohort will have reached adulthood by this year, so PSID researchers will collect information on this new generation of kids ages 0 to 17. 

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8:00 am
Thu June 12, 2014

Meet an elementary school principal who's part "caretaker, nurturer, manager, teacher, and preacher"

Principal Diedre Zockheem greets students at Myers Elementary in Taylor.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

There are principals and then there's Diedre Zockheem. 

As a journalist I know I'm supposed to be impartial, but I've gotta say that Diedre Zockheem really is one of a kind. She's the principal at Myers Elementary, the low-income school featured in our State of Opportunity documentary The Education Gap

Zockheem has been principal at Myers for eight years. She’s just about the most stable thing this school has going for it. There's an incredibly high teacher turnover rate at Myers, and issues of domestic violence, mental illness, and drug abuse plague the families at her school.

I've interviewed Zockheem dozens of times over the last nine months and every time she tells me some story that reminds me a) how tough these kids have it, and b) how dedicated Zockheem is to helping them.

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8:12 am
Sat June 7, 2014

Michigan makes strides to improve dropout rate data

Credit user alamosbasement / Flickr

Our colleague Jake Neher with the Michigan Public Radio Network filed a story today on high school dropout rate data. Turns out Michigan used to be really bad at calculating the dropout rate.

Neher says a 2006 state audit found the Center for Education Performance and Information (CEPI) was "not providing reliable data on high school dropouts." But Neher says CEPI has stepped up its game, thanks in large part to a new system that "tracks students through their school careers." Lawmakers also passed legislation to allow the state to "access school records that are critical for calculating graduation and dropout rates."

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8:00 am
Wed June 4, 2014

A Detroit diversion program gives teen offenders a second chance at a clean record

In Teen Court, a jury of high school students asks questions of the offender to come up with an appropriate sentence.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

This is a story about second chances.

When a teen commits a crime it goes on their permanent record, which can lead to all kinds of disadvantages down the road. When they go to apply for a job, for example, they’ll have to admit they broke the law. But a diversion program out of Wayne County gives some low-level, first-time offenders a way to admit their guilt and keep their record clean at the same time. 

Let’s meet the defendant

Chloe (not her real name) was with her friend at J.C. Penney. Her friend stole a bunch of stuff while they were there; Chloe stole a $30 bracelet. They both got caught before they could run out of the store.

Since shoplifting is a misdemeanor and because this is Chloe’s first ever run-in with the law, she’s decided to take her case to Teen Court. This particular teen court is affiliated with the Detroit Public School district. But there are dozens of teen courts around the state and more than 1,000 across the country.

In order for teen court to work, the defendant has to admit up front that she broke the law. Then it’s up to a group of high school students – a literal jury of her peers – to come up with an appropriate sentence.

"Hopefully they teach me something and hopefully they learn from my mistakes and stuff" says Chloe. "And I hope I leave there feeling relieved that I finally got to talk about it."

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8:00 am
Wed May 21, 2014

A Catholic high school in Detroit requires students to hold down a job as part of their homework

Once a week, Idalis Longoria trades in her Catholic school uniform for scrubs as part of Cristo Rey's jobs program.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

School is almost over for the year, and one Detroit high school has lots to celebrate. The entire graduating class has been accepted to college. Nearly all of the students live in poverty, and most of them are the first in their family to go to college. So what's the secret to their success? 

The school that works – literally.

Four days a week, Idalis Longoria does what pretty much all high school juniors do: She goes to school, takes notes in class, and hangs out with her friends in the cafeteria during lunchtime.

But on the fifth day of the week, Longoria trades in her Catholic school uniform for a pair of light-blue scrubs and makes her way around the birthing floor for her “rounds” at St. Mary’s Hospital near Detroit.

Believe it or not, her hospital rounds are her homework. See, Longoria, who’s 17 years old, goes to Cristo Rey. It’s a college prep catholic high school in Detroit, one of 25 around the country. The Cristo Rey schools are specifically for low-income kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford private school. The vast majority of students are either Hispanic, like Longoria, or black.

Here’s how it works: One day a week, beginning freshman year, the students go to work for a white-collar company – a law firm, say, or the information technology department at Chrysler. The company, in turn, agrees to pay most of the student’s school tuition. 

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Families & Community
8:00 am
Wed May 7, 2014

How one teen escaped gang life and lived to tell about it

A street in southwest Detroit.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Gang life is a reality for a lot of kids who live in poor neighborhoods. There are parts of Detroit, for example, where gangs run the blocks. Here's the story of one 17-year old's experience in and out of a gang.  

How it all began

Alberto was just eight years old when he witnessed his first gang fight; it broke out on the sidewalk in front of his house. Just a few years later and Alberto himself was in a gang. He said it started out pretty innocently, just some friends hanging out, fooling around. "But then," explains Alberto, "it starts getting more serious. Oh this guy is fighting our home boy, let’s go help him out. You’re like, ok, he’s my friend, he’s been there for me, let me go do the same thing for him. Then you fight, you make new enemies. And it just progresses after a while."

I caught up with Alberto at an after-school program where a lot of former gang members hang out. When he first started telling me about his time in a gang, the first thing I wanted to know was: How violent did it get? 

"I had about three friends killed, one or two family members shot at," says Alberto. There were constant shoot outs in front of his house, too. "I grew up with a lot of violence around, so [I'm] hoping that my brothers don’t go thru the same thing as me is a big hope for me."

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9:00 am
Wed April 30, 2014

From Kalamazoo, two artists full of Promise

Rogelio (Roy) Almaguer works on a new tattoo. He says attending Kendall College of Art and Design makes him a better tattoo artist. He hopes to one day own a shop where customers can get tattoos, screen-printed clothing and other original artwork.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Since it began, 2,828 students in Kalamazoo have used the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship to help pay for college. 

This is the story of two of those students. 

Rogelio Almaguer and Raul Ortiz are both the first in their families to attend college. The two friends are now students at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids. They're using the Kalamazoo Promise to pursue not just a career, but a passion. 

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