Speaking For Kids

Boosting Michigan’s Literacy: No Time Like the Present

July 29, 2016 – This week, Governor Snyder signed an Executive Order creating the Michigan PreK-12 Literacy Commission. Like many previous efforts, this Commission is charged over the next two years with assisting the K-12 system to improve student literacy skills. The group will be determined through appointments by the Governor, the Superintendent and legislative leadership from both parties.

The focus on literacy is warranted, and clearly not new. It is obviously a gateway skill – that is, the poorer your reading skills, the harder all classes are for you as you progress through the grades. Michigan students don’t test well on literacy compared to their peers in other states; in fact, at the same time that the nation as a whole has improved on 4th grade reading tests, Michigan’s performance worsened, resulting in a national rank on that indicator that places us solidly below 42 other states. And, some specific populations of kids continue to test more poorly than others – Black and Hispanic kids, kids from low-income or homeless families.

It isn’t as if we have not acted at all on this situation. There have been numerous initiatives within our K-12 system and the state Department of Education, including current Top 10 in 10 efforts. In the current legislature there has definitely been increased attention to the problem, and we even saw some investment in the last two state budgets, driven by concerns and efforts around improving our status. This investment was not enough, and some of it could have been better focused, as we’ve talked about before. Now we have yet another effort tasked with pinpointing strategies.

For candidates in this election year, for new legislators in 2017, for the Governor and for the new Commission members, here are some key facts. They are well known, and well researched.

Fact One: Gaps in literacy emerge as early as nine months. Some kids have stronger nutrition and better health, some kids are ready to more often, some kids are spoken to more often, some kids experience more stress and trauma in their early years. All these things impact literacy skill-building, and their impact starts right away. Efforts to support families early are critical to the state’s literacy success.

Fact Two: There is ample evidence (and common sense) that says that the educational success of parents has everything to do with the literacy success of their children. Family literacy efforts targeted toward building the skills of parents and other caregivers are critical to the state’s literacy success.

Fact Three: The 6,000 hour learning gap, experienced between lower income children and their financially more better off peers, contributes to a variety of skill gaps, including literacy, by the time young people are in middle school. As I’ve already stated, starting early and maintaining opportunities that expand learning through elementary, middle and high school are critical to the state’s literacy success.

Fact Four: Kids have to be in school in order to take advantage of even the most effective school-based literacy programming. Making sure barriers to attending school are addressed for families and young people, including unsafe streets, unsupportive school climates and exclusionary school discipline practices are critical to the state’s literacy success.

We have many effective strategies at our disposal inside and outside the school building to improve literacy, and it never hurts to focus efforts on learning more about what can be done. However, we hope that the Governor and Legislature don’t have to wait for this Commission to finish its work to continue to recognize and commit to needed investments in literacy. 2017 will bring shifting legislative leadership and the Governor’s final two years of legacy. There is no time like the present to reiterate what needs to be done, marshal the resources and take action!

– Michele Corey

Youth’s Questions Spark Dialogue on Policy Solutions at Detroit Candidate Forum

July 12, 2016 – On Thursday, July 7, Michigan’s Children partnered with The Children’s Center in Detroit to hold the first Youth-Led Candidate Forum of the 2016 election season.  Youth from various programs of the Children’s Center came together to elicit answers from candidates in regards to some of the most compelling issues that they are facing in their communities.  The forum consisted of incumbents running for re-election and candidates who are first-time runners seeking to represent State House districts 2, 5, and 6.  The six candidates proved an interest in addressing a number of issues which the youth considered to be barriers to their personal safety and the safety of their community, their academic success, health, and their families’ economic issues.  The youth asked questions regarding crime throughout the City, high unemployment rates, racism and discrimination in their schools, substance and alcohol use by minors, the Detroit Public Schools crisis, and in light of recent events, redefining the roles and perceptions of police officers by residents in their community.  The space was truly uplifting as I heard the passion in these youth’s voices and listened as youth shared their personal stories of growing up in Detroit, specifically as it related to their growth and their families’ experiences facing various systemic barriers.

During the forum, most candidates shared their experiences growing up in Detroit which reinforced their passionate concern about the issues that the youth were most concerned about.  The candidates spoke about their extensive community involvement throughout the City of Detroit explaining why their commitment to serving and restoring the City was significant.  Often times the candidates mentioned the importance of working together within communities to create change, and encouraged the youth to continue to advocate through activities and conversations, such as the forum, that bring communities together to bring about change.  The youth were given opportunities to challenge answers from the candidates if they were in disagreement or wanted more information about how the solutions mentioned would come about.  Subsequently, this created a dialogue between the youth and candidates to critically think of policy solutions that would truly bring about real change.

Afterwards, the candidates expressed the value of, importance of, and showed gratitude for being involved in such an event.  Many said that it reinforced their commitment to running for State Representative and truly pushing for change in Detroit so that this generation of youth and those to follow can have a more enriching environment to be kids, grow, and succeed.  Candidates stayed around after the forum to thank the youth and applaud them on their courage and efforts to create change in their communities as a group.

Overall, this forum allowed candidates to hear about concerns from young people in their communities and consider potential solutions to bring about change.  And it showed the youth that they can have a say in what the future of their community looks like, and I believe that it did just that.

-Briana Coleman

Briana is an MSW intern at Michigan’s Children.

Meet Briana, the Newest Member of our Staff

May 9, 2016 – Hello! My name is Briana Coleman and I am excited to begin my journey into the policy world during my time at Michigan’s Children.  I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Michigan State University in May of 2015. Originally from Hamtramck, Michigan I have always taken a value in diversity and understanding the importance of community to motivate change. Coming from a low-income background, and understanding the struggle of graduating high school and going away to college sparked an interest very early in my professional career to work with youth who come from similar communities as myself. Beginning in 2012, I worked as an advocate and later as a case supervisor for the Adolescent Project which is a community based intervention program between the Juvenile Justice Division of the Lansing District Court and a department at Michigan State University. Mentoring youth and helping them find resources in their community led me to further working with youth involved in foster care, homelessness and housing insecurity, abuse and neglect services, and in more aspects of juvenile justice. Most recently, I have served as a program assistant for the Center for Educational Outreach at the University of Michigan where I have been in charge of developing, facilitating, and evaluating college access workshops which were presented to students in Detroit, Monroe, and Garden City among other cities in Michigan.

Currently, I am in my second year of my graduate studies at the University of Michigan studying social and educational policies which effect disadvantaged youth. Having experience working with youth in multiple systems led me to see how these systems overlap, and enable youth to become further involved with behaviors that will have a negative effect on their futures. Furthermore my experiences have led me to understanding how the disparities and lack of resources in the educational system across economic thresholds effects the chances of youth involvement within these systems. With this perspective I became interested in policy advocacy work for children and youth from disadvantaged communities. Upon being made aware of Michigan’s Children I became intrigued with their work and wanted to become involved in the things that they were doing due to the overlap of issues that they prioritize and my personal interests. The emphasis that Michigan’s Children places on improving youth outcomes from a multi-systemic approach further warranted my interest in the organization.

During my time at Michigan’s Children I hope to learn and expand on my advocacy skills while also learning skills relevant to building and maintaining partnerships within the communities where we work. Additionally, during my time here I hope to contribute to the mission of Michigan’s Children by engaging in research, assisting with outreach events, contributing my thoughts on policies which effects children, and by learning from the people that I work with.

– Briana Coleman

Michigan’s Children is proud to welcome intern Briana Coleman to our staff. You will hear more from her throughout her year at Michigan’s Children, and can get in touch with her via email.

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