Speaking For Kids

Youth Lead, Candidates Follow

October 28, 2016 – On Tuesday, October 18, Michigan’s Children partnered with Ingham Academy and Peckham Inc. to facilitate Michigan’s Children’s 2nd 2016 youth-led candidate forum in Lansing. The youth who spoke at the forum were youth currently or formerly involved with the juvenile court system, who attended Ingham Academy and programs through Peckham Inc. The young people had a lot of great questions to ask the candidates present running for the 67th Michigan House district, and Ingham County Sheriff and Prosecutor.

This forum was particularly interesting because the youth were able to stand and ask candidates who make decisions regarding their lives questions about some of the things they have experienced firsthand. The youth asked about topics from foster care, substance abuse services, transitional programs, human trafficking, and community violence, to mental health and holistic practices for sentencing youth in juvenile court. The candidates responded to the youth placing an emphasis on enhancing the relationships between the county officials and the community, along with community policing, and advocating for the allocation of funds for programs that the youth need in their communities. Through their stories and questions, the youth were able to utilize the forum as a safe space to advocate for a better, more-resourced community environment. Personally, it is truly refreshing to see so many youth communicate the needs of their communities in such a strong way to the candidates. It is equally as refreshing to see the candidates take time out of their busy schedules during this election season to hear the youths concerns, and learn more about the issues that are pertinent to the communities that they are hoping to serve for the next several years.

The forum elicited many spectators who were from local non-profit organizations, the Lansing courts, and other interested community members, family, and friends of the youth. The size and strength of the audience illustrated community support for the youth, which clearly boosted their confidence as they told their stories and asked their questions. It was refreshing to hear the youth claim and embrace their journey as they provided support for the importance of their questions by sharing their own life experiences. As an audience member, I can only hope that the candidates take all of these personal stories into consideration after the election. For the winners: as they create and advance their agenda once in office; for the others, as they continue with other opportunities to serve the community. The candidates offered solutions, and even though complete answers could not be provided to every question, the youth stated that just by putting their concerns on the table they felt as if they made a difference in their communities.

As an advocate for youth voice, and including the practical experiences and knowledge from youth about their communities and schools in policy change decisions, I could not have asked for a better response from the youth. It is my hope that the youth continue to grow, and create and participate in spaces for dialogue about the changes in their communities as they continue through their educational and life endeavors. The youth in this forum had great perspectives and the candidates made sure the youth felt heard which made for yet another successful forum.

– Briana Coleman
Briana is an MSW intern at Michigan’s Children.

Continuing to Move the Dime on Literacy

October 14, 2016 – Last week, Governor Snyder signed into law a new measure aimed to improve literacy by third grade. We’ve all heard it before – the critical importance of learning to read in the early grades and Michigan’s ongoing challenge with this important benchmark with 37% of kids unable to read at a basic level and 71% not reading proficiently by the end of third grade – statistics that are far worse for students of color and students facing other learning and life challenges.

Michigan’s Children played a unique and specific role in the conversation, focused primarily on how this bill might impact students whose parents also face their own challenges – whether they are related to parents’ illiteracy, language barriers, parental mental health challenges, housing instability, or work schedules that make parents literally unavailable to support their children’s reading struggles. Through our advocacy efforts, we were glad to see in the final law the following provisions included.

  1. The law includes other caregivers to help support students with “read at home plans,” which are designed to supplement school-based learning with a home-based plan. The original language of the bill did not include other caregivers, and we are glad they were included as they could be and often are critical partners in education such as afterschool providers, neighbors, church members, or other family members who could be implementing a read at home plan when a parent may be unable to.
  2. The law also requires schools to document efforts to engage parents and whether or not those efforts are successful. This as an opportunity to get a better handle on the barriers currently in place that make it challenging for schools to better partner with parents. This could include all of the issues previously laid out around parental literacy, language, ability to be home to support their children’s read at home plans, and other factors. Whatever the issues, understanding them are essential to then figure out how to address them. For example, if a significant barrier around engaging parents are parents’ own literacy challenges, then an opportunity to address that systematically would be to increase access to adult basic education.

While Michigan’s Children was ultimately supportive of the final bill due to these shifts around parental engagement, things we worked specifically on, we know that this is just one step to improve literacy, which will also require a significant resource investment. I was personally glad to see my own state legislator – Rep. Adam Zemke who worked very hard on the third grade reading bill – bring up a potential inequity in the way parents are allowed to request a good cause exemption to not retain their child who may be behind in reading. We know that parents will advocate for their children as best they can, but some families may not have the capacity or time to do so, thus the possibility for some groups of kids to more likely be held back (like kids in foster care) while others are promoted. Rep. Zemke pushed to allow other adults to be able to request exemptions for students besides their parents, an amendment that was ultimately not included but would’ve made the law stronger.

As more information is gleaned from the implementation of the third grade reading law, Michigan’s Children will be monitoring the equity impact and the barriers that schools identify with parental engagement. And we will continue to advocate for a variety of supports to ensure that literacy needs are met for children that span beyond the classroom based on these identified barriers as well as research on what works. This also means making sure that necessary interventions are adequately funded. As candidates are pounding the pavement over the next few weeks, be sure to talk to them about the importance of early literacy and what you think are critically important to move the dime – things like family literacy, high quality child care to prepare kids before they reach kindergarten, and high quality afterschool and summer programs that can reduce the literacy gap through the early grades and beyond.

– Mina Hong

Recommendations From the Source

October 6, 2016 – Earlier this week, the National Dropout Prevention Conference (NDPC) was held in Detroit with a focus on empowering students, improving educational success, and mitigating the long-term effects associated with dropping out of school. This month is also National Dropout Prevention Month, encouraging groups across sectors to raise awareness of the issue and work harder toward helping all students stay in school.

The NDPC brings to our attention that, too often, the need for dropout prevention awareness and viable solutions is underestimated. While progress in reducing school dropout rates has been made, the need for greater awareness still exists. Notably, 6.5% of people between the ages of 16 and 24 in the US are not enrolled in school and have not earned a diploma. These young people, on average, will be qualified for only 10% of available jobs and earn $8,000 less per year than high school graduates. Yet as many are aware, individual lived experiences are not captured in these nationally reported numbers.

To provide space for students to share their experiences, the NDPC hosted several Youth Led Sessions. Michigan’s Children assisted with coordinating these sessions, and I was honored to attend several on the afternoon of October 4. Student presenters represented several impactful organizations throughout Michigan focusing on a variety of points along students’ journeys, including: Ozone House, Fostering Success Michigan, Swartz Creek Academy, Crossroads High School, Neutral Zone, Oakland Opportunity Academy, Youth Action Michigan, Lansing Community College, The Children’s Center, Developing K.I.D.S., Metropolitan Youth Policy Fellows, and Washtenaw Technical Middle College.

The Youth Led Sessions covered a wide range of topics, from the importance of embracing technology in the classroom instead of fighting against it to actualizing the idea that students should feel cared for by their teachers. Similarly, presentations varied depending on the students leading them: there were skits, panels, ice breakers, interactive activities, internet memes, and lots of comradery. One common thread among all sessions was the prompting of self-reflection by teachers, administrators and others with influence over students’ learning experiences: What are we doing to make school a place where students want to be? After hearing what students had to say and the thoughtful discussions about their ideas for solutions, I reflect on two key takeaways:

  • Consideration of the multiple factors that go into students’ school-day experiences. Decisions to drop out – or engage in behaviors that lead to punitive responses by school officials – rarely have to do with only one factor, and the intersection of young peoples’ school, home, and community lives cannot be ignored. This highlights the importance of moving toward a trauma-informed educational system in each district and classroom. School should foster a sense of belonging and connectedness to the world students are preparing to enter, rather than serve as another stressor.
  • Raising awareness of resources that can make postsecondary education more of a possibility. In addition to making financial and compensatory resources known to students and their families — e.g., Michigan’s Fostering Futures Scholarship & Tuition Incentive Program for those who have experienced foster care – teachers’ and administrators’ awareness and willingness to engage in discussions about what is helpful to each individual student is also crucial. Students emphasized that their perception of education as a key factor in their future shifted their attitudes toward education in the present.

It was an honor to attend the Youth Led Sessions and engage in these discussions. While the NDPC and awareness campaigns through National Dropout Prevention Month have amplified these discussions to new audiences, the importance of dropout prevention work is ongoing. In Michigan, there are several things candidates can do to promote graduation. To effectively honor what was heard in the Youth Led Sessions, these issues must continue to be highlighted throughout the election season and into the next legislative session.

–  Leann Down

Leann is a former Michigan’s Children Intern, and is finishing up her dual Master’s degrees from the University of Michigan School of Social Work and the Ford School of Public Policy.

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