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Series & Documentaries

Stockbridge Series: Is college readiness enough?

Feb 14, 2013
Logan Chadde

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.

Angie Eagle

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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.

Many kids start to set their expectations low or downgrade their dreams in middle school, and it sticks. They pick up on and care about others expectations for them.

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." 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

  Transcript: 

STATE OF OPPORTUNITY: documentary

[Dustin Dwyer:] Children’s brains do not come preprogrammed.

[Jack Shonkoff:] Literally, our environment shapes the architecture of our brain.

[Dustin Dwyer:] If that environment is dominated by the stress of poverty, and a lack of learning opportunities, the brain is physically changed.

[Clancy Blair:] The effects of poverty on childen’s development are pervasive and they last throughout childhood and into early adulthood. There’s no question about it.”

JENNIFER GUERRA: I want to introduce you to a young mom, her name is Angela. She’s 21 years old. She lives with her son in a two bedroom, section eight apartment, just outside Detroit in Highland Park.

ANGELA: I have one kid and one on the way. Want me to say his name? His name is Darrion, he’s three years old.

JG: Darrion has a crazy amount of energy. He likes to bounce around his two-bedroom apartment like the springiest frog you’ve ever seen. He’s also a very big fan of toy cars. And soon, his mom tells me, Darrion is going to be a big brother.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

In our final segment of State of Opportunity, Jennifer Guerra looks at what's being done today to help ensure that all children have an equal shot at celebrating their first birth - no matter where they live, what color their skin is, or how much money their parents have in the bank.

A Healthy Start approach, or how to get the black infant mortality rate down to zero

State of Opportunity reporter Jennifer Guerra tagged along with Jenny Hall on a home visit to see a client of hers who lives near Flint. 

user seanmcgrath / Flickr

In part two of our State of Opportunity documentary on infant mortality and disparities, we ask the question: Why are black babies two and a half times more likely to die before they turn one than white babies? 

Two of the leading causes of infant mortality are babies that are born too soon or too small, and a disproportionate amount of those babies are African American. 

Growing up in a toxic soup

user tamakisono / Flickr

Behind the statistics: A personal tragedy

We talked previously about Chantania Smith and her struggle with losing a child. 

Six months into her pregnancy, Smith’s doctors discovered she had a short cervix, which is a major cause of preterm birth and a leading indicator for infant mortality.

When she went into labor a month and a half later, the umbilical cord prolapsed and came out first, and Smith was rushed to the hospital for an emergency C-section.  

On January 14, 2010, she gave birth to a little baby boy named Jerome – JJ for short. 

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