Part of the State of Opportunity's mission is to hear the stories of listeners as they experience their local communities. One of the best kinds of community engagement happens when we teach new skills or help others enhance the skills they already have. What reporter Sarah Alvarez and Michigan Radio intern Logan Chaddee found in working with the 17 young people in Elizabeth Cyr's journalism class is that they have a wealth of insight into interviewing their peers and getting at the "real" story.
The schools in Stockbridge, Michigan have in some ways a sad task in educating their youth. Because Stockbridge is a rural village with very little economic opportunity preparing kids to succeed often means preparing them to leave town.
Teachers and administrators at the high school there don't think it's enough to try to prepare thier students for college. College is expensive, and though most of the kids will pursue higher education of one kind or another, paying for it can be tough.
So teacher Duane Watson and a few others are heavily invested in technical education. Watson has three rooms he teaches in, to call them classrooms might give the wrong impression. In one of them, the only desks are broken ones people hope his students will fix.
It's a garage and I was impressed that three full cars could fit in it before Watson corrected me.
“Four actually, and one compact utility tractor, a snowplow going on a truck, a completely student fabricated tandem-axle trailer, and an alternative fuel vehicle-a battery powered golf cart." He said as he laughed about the golf cart experiment.
This shop is part of a serious effort by Watson and the schools in Stockbridge to keep technical classes from slipping out of the curriculum, like they have at a lot of other places. Plenty of the equipment in the auto shop was donated by schools who shut their programs down.
When Gabe Schray was in middle school in Stockbridge, he admits he was kind of a mess. He got bullied, in part because he was a new kid. He moved to Stockbridge to live with his dad after he had to leave his grandparents house.
“Yep, my grandfather he died in front of me, so, you know, " said Schray.
That trauma and the social difficulty he had made school almost an afterthought. He continues, "So honestly I just did homework when I felt like it. What the teachers said didn’t matter to me because of what was going on outside of school. My grades were very poor because of that. You know the reflection was so clear it was like a mirror. The more that was going on the worse my grades were.”
Schray started to get it together after his freshman year of high school. He says joining the football team saved him. He's a senior now, and he is well-liked, funny, confident and going to a good college next year.
New research suggests Schray was lucky, because by tenth grade if kids don’t believe they can achieve after high school it’s likely they won’t. That’s even more true for low-income kids, and almost half the kids in Stockbridge are low-income.
In Stockbridge the middle school doesn't seem to be held up as a point of pride in the community like the other schools. Middle school principal Brad Edwards describes it this way, “Kind of like the middle child if you will. Just kind of gets left out."
Robin Lowe Fletcher grew up in Stockbridgeand she now owns one of the beauty salons in town. Fletcher and her husband have one son in high school and one in kindergarten.
Before kindergarten they were really worried about their youngest, Brenden. The school was supposed to be good, it’s been recognized by the state as a "reward school" and has a solid reputation. But they thought people there might not help their son succeed, or that they might find ways to keep him out of their school.