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Reporter's notebook: Inside Cody High's small school model

user Frank Juarez

I've been spending a lot of time at Cody's Medicine and Community Health Academy in Detroit for our next State of Opportunity documentary, and I thought I'd use today's blog post to highlight a few observations. But before I do, there are a few things you need to know about Cody: 

  1. It used to be one giant high school with a serious dropout problem. The problem was so bad some called the school a "dropout factory." The Detroit News reports that 77% of Cody's class of 2008 transferred or dropped out.
  2. In 2009, Cody was divided into three small, separate high schools (in addition to Cody's Medicine and Community Health Academy, there is the Academy of Public Leadership and the Detroit Institute of Technology) as part of United Way's Networks of Excellence program to turn around troubled schools.
  3. The new, small school model at Cody has produced some impressive results in terms of graduation rates. According to, Cody MCH had an 83% graduation rate last year: out of a cohort of 94 seniors, 78 graduated.

OK, so that's the background. Without giving away too much of what's to come in my documentary, here are some observations I've gleaned from my time observing the small school model:

  • There are a TON of organizations involved in Cody's turnaround efforts. United Way alone has something like a dozen community partners working in the building, trying to help keep students on track to graduate. I'm having a hard time keeping track of all the organizations – who does what, when, where. Not sure if this is typical of the small school model, but I'm eager to look into it more.
  • Classroom management is a BIG DEAL. I'm always curious as to how teachers are taught classroom management. It seems like – and I'm talking more broadly than Cody here – some teachers are masters at it, others are not. Is it an inherent quality? Something you can learn? Luckily I don't have to figure that out because my colleague Kate Wells is working on that EXACT STORY for a series about teachers our newsroom is doing at the end of the month. Stay tuned! I know I will. 
  • One person can make a big difference. The whole point of the small school model is that it's small. Instead of 2,000 students in the high school, there are around 400 students. Each staff member is responsible for the same 15-20 students over the course of four years, so the thinking is that each student will have at least one teacher they feel a connection to, and will reach out to for help. Now, I can't say for certain whether that is actually happening, but I can say that every student I've interviewed is able to point to at least one teacher who they feel is looking out for them. And for many of those students, that one person has played an integral part in their lives, either stopping them from getting in a fight or, worse, dropping out.

I'll be reporting more on Cody over the coming months, so stay tuned.

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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