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.

flickr.com/swaity / Licenced under Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Michelle Gach grabs a couple slices of pizza before we get started. She has a story to tell, and it turns out to be a long one, covering the past 14 years of her life, with more tragic turns than most people see in an entire lifetime.

But that comes later. For now, we’re sitting in a room together: Michelle, two of her daughters, and two friendly pit bulls.

The room is mostly bare, exposed plywood on the floor, blue strips of painter’s tape along the baseboard, new doors still leaning against the wall. A project waiting to be finished.

While Michelle Gach finishes her pizza, her daughter Felicity begins to tell me the story of what happened on a Saturday in August 2014.

Detroit kids to get robots and creative writing too

Jan 20, 2016
826michigan is opening the Detroit Robot Factory - along with a tutoring and creative writing center.
826michigan

826michigan - a free tutoring and creative writing center for kids - is setting up a new shop.  

The group has already helped thousands of school-aged children in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti write poetry or just get their algebra homework done, and now it hopes to do the same in Detroit. 

"My invention is called the Crazy Boom," Mohamed Conde reads from his short story at 826michigan's writing center in Ann Arbor.

"I can go back to prehistoric times.  Like if I wanted to see George Washington or a dinosaur, I could because of my invention.  My brain is bigger than Albert Einstein's.  Ten times bigger."

Nick Azzaro / Ypsilanti Community Schools

This isn’t exactly breaking news, but it’s worth repeating: we have no idea – as a state – how much it costs to adequately educate a child in Michigan. Most states have done so-called “adequacy studies,” but Michigan hasn’t. Until now. We’ve got a new school funding study underway. But before we get to the nitty gritty details about what goes into the study, let's ask some students how much they think it costs to educate one child per year in Michigan. 

Brittany Bartkowiak / Michigan Radio

Last year a disturbing cell phone video caused national outrage over the presence of police in schools. It shows a South Carolina cop grabbing a student's desk, flipping it over, and dragging her body out of class. You can hear the officer saying "give me your hands" over and over, followed by the student's voice saying "I'm hurt." 

This video got us wondering how officers are trained to work in schools. With the new semester about to begin, I decided to find out. 

user Phil Roeder / flickr

If you've been following State of Opportunity for a while, you've probably heard us say this a few times now: our state constitution legally promises all Michigan kids  a "free" education, but it says nothing about that education being "adequate" or "equitable."

Here's the exact language:

Sec. 2. The Legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. went way up after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. And the backlash against American Muslims is on the rise again after the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations notes on its website "that it has received more reports about acts of Islamophobic discrimination, intimidation, threats, and violence targeting American Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslim) and Islamic institutions in the past week-and-a-half than during any other limited period of time since the 9/11 terror attacks."

Not surprisingly, the increased backlash is causing a lot of stress for Muslims in general and for Muslim religious leaders in particular. 

Michigan Radio

We're going to go out on a limb here and say most parents want to know how their child's school measures up in terms of standardized test scores, graduation rates, demographics and so on. 

Another big question parents ask when looking at a school: 

“How many kids are in a typical classroom?”

When you hear people talk about ineffective school systems, you’ll often hear something like, “there aren’t enough desks or books,” or “there are more than 30 kids in that classroom.”

Mstyslav Chernov / Wikimedia Commons

There’s been lots of talk lately about refugees, mostly about whether to let them into the U.S. and how they’re being vetted. But there is a human side to this story about what it actually feels like to be a refugee. So today on State of Opportunity, we're going to spend some time with a refugee who's called Michigan his home for the past four years.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

After last week's attacks in Paris, President Barack Obama condemned the terrorists and pledged support to France, saying: "We stand prepared and ready to provide whatever assistance the people of France need to respond." You can listen to his full remarks here:

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

How do you navigate life on the outside after you’ve been locked up in prison for years? That’s a question more than 6,000 federal inmates recently faced when they were released early from prison due to changes in how the government sentences drug criminals.

So what does it take to successfully re-enter society?

We put that question to Tim Hurley, an ex-con who did two stints in prison. He says having a mentor once he got out helped him transition big time. 

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