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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.

Amanda Hood and family
Courtesy of Amanda Hood

 

Among the hundreds of stories produced by the State of Opportunity team was one about a Hillsdale family, Amanda and Mike Hood, and their two young daughters.

Their story put a spotlight on the challenges low-income families face in finding affordable child care and preschool. 

row of babies in hospital beds
Tamaki Sono / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Too many Michigan babies are dying.

For every 1,000 babies born in our state, roughly seven won't make it to their first birthday. That's a full point higher than the national infant mortality rate. When you break that down by race, the numbers are more disturbing.

Jen Guerra and child
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

The State of Opportunity team began its work in 2012. Since then, they've produced hundreds of stories exploring the barriers to success that low-income kids and families in Michigan face.

Now, that important project is wrapping up.

boy listening to radio
Ian T. McFarland / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Earlier this week, my colleague Dustin Dwyer brought you Pushed Out: A documentary on housing in Grand Rapids, our final State of Opportunity documentary. 

While our five-year project is coming to an end, the issues facing low-income kids and families in Michigan aren't. If you want a deep dive into the challenges facing families in poverty, listen to a few of our past documentaries. 

A house for sale in Grand Rapids
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Don Norman settles into his chair, and pulls his blanket up to his chest. On the TV, Dick Van Dyke is about to solve a murder.

The room is warm, shades drawn. It’s a good old house. A bit of plaster is coming off the ceiling in the corner, but the house is neat. Every shelf is filled with pictures of family.

Don’s been here 40 years, he says. Ever since he and his wife got pushed out of their last home, when the hospital near them started an expansion and bulldozed their old block.

A photo of 10-year old Justice, aka "Batman"
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Week after week for five years, we’ve played the same clip at the start of every State of Opportunity story. You hear three kids telling us what they want to be when they grow up: a firefighter, a ballerina, and a Batman.

We’ve heard from countless listeners, friends, and even colleagues over the years. And they all want to know: where’s Batman now?

So, as my last story for State of Opportunity, I set out to track him down.

police car
Scott Davidson / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

About 15 million children in the United States–21% of all kids–live in impoverished families. These kids are at higher risk for negative health outcomes like low birth weight, asthma, obesity and mental health problems.

Growing up poor is also a well-known risk factor for child abuse and neglect. And a recent study suggests that children in poor families also have a higher chance of dying from abuse.

Girl with statue reading book
Donnie Ray Jones / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

1. How poverty changes the brain | The Atlantic

We know living in poverty can have physical effects, like increased risk for asthma, obesity and hunger. But growing research suggests that the constant fear and stress experienced by many poor people actually rewires certain parts of the brain.

kid holding lunch tray
Tim Lauer / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

In the past few years, you may have heard the term "lunch shaming" being thrown around. It's basically the practice of penalizing students who don't have money to pay for their school lunch.

Lunch shaming has been the focus of recent news stories about cafeteria workers who have either quit their jobs because they refused to deny students hot lunches or were fired for giving free food to students who couldn't pay.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Charter schools are public schools, which means they’re supposed to educate any kid that walks in the door.

But a new bill making its way through the Michigan legislature could make it so that charters can give enrollment preference to certain students.

Which ones? Well, the answer might surprise you. 

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