STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Kaylan and Kevin are both from "Mister Knight's Neighorhood." Who is slipping through the cracks?

Andrea Claire Maio

Our latest State of Opportunity documentary, Mister Knight's Neighborhood, introduced us to two students at Cody High School: 15-year-old Kaylan and 16-year-old Kevin. Both students are on the brink, and trying to make it to graduation.


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Back in 2009, administrators moved to overhaul Cody and transform it from a "dropout factory" into three smaller high school with an emphasis on improved graduation rates. The old Cody high school had upwards of 1,800 students; the new, smaller Cody schools have around 400 students, so theoretically it should be harder for students to fall through the cracks.


Jimmie Knight grew up in the Cody neighborhood and graduated from Cody nearly 35 years ago. He was living in the suburbs up until a few years ago, when he decided to move back to the Cody neighborhood with his family and work at one of the small Cody high schools. He began to practice what he calls his degree in “familyism.” He tries to treat all the kids on his caseload as individuals, and give each of them the same level of support.

But there are limits to how much Mr. Knight can help. “I do know reality,” he tells State of Opportunity reporter Jennifer Guerra. “I’m not going to be able to save every kid. But when that kid leaves, he’ll say that somebody cares.”

Mr. Knight can't fix everything. In Guerra's documentary, it's clear that Kevin, a high school football star, seems to have more chances to succeed than Kalyan, a ninth grade student who transferred to Cody in October.

For example, Kaylan has a disability. Her Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, is supposed to inform teachers what extra support she needs in the classroom. But some of Kaylan's teachers didn't know she had an IEP. Also, the school says suspension is a last resort, but Kaylan's been suspended multiple times even though she has an IEP, which is supposed to help students like her avoid being suspended.

Kevin seems to have a lot more people rooting for him, literally. He’s a huge football star at Cody. Teachers give him makeup work so he catch up on the days he’s missed. The principal even personally made sure Kevin wrote an essay for his summer job application.Kevin has been given second chances at school when it comes to discipline. Kaylan, on the other hand, was suspended twice during the making of Mister Knight’s Neighborhood alone. She spent her days out of school watching Spongebob Squarepants.

These relative investments in students aren't just a matter of Kaylan and Kevin, or the relative status of athletes versus non-athletes. They reflect the challenges black girls can face in getting ahead in school and in society:

Black girls’ achievements are often overlooked and undervalued. Teachers are more likely to think of black girls as mature and self-reliant, but this isn’t always the case.

Black girls are punished most severely out of all kids. In public school systems across the country, all black children are suspended more frequently than their white counterparts. More specifically, black girls are punished even more severely than black boys. Not only do black girls encounter more severe consequences, black girls with dark skin color are alsomore likely to be suspended than kids with lighter skin.

Girls of color are the highest growing juvenile prison population in the United States.

What’s next for Kaylan and Kevin?

Kaylan’s mom pulled her out of school after a particularly brutal fight because she feared for her daughter's safety. She'll be enrolled in an online education program.

As for Kevin’s future? He has a whole list of goals he must accomplish “no matter what," including moving out of 'the hood,' graduating high school, and being the first in his family to go to college. Soon, he’ll be a dad.

Credit Andrea Claire Maio
Kevin tells Guerra more of his goals, "Number six, never let someone tell you different. Seven, never give up. And then eight, I got it in capital letters: IF YOU FALL, GET UP AND TRY IT AGAIN."

Multimedia support for this project ?was provided by The Equity Reporting Project: Restoring the Promise of Education, which was developed by Renaissance Journalism with funding from the Ford Foundation.?

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