Speaking For Kids

Intern Dispatch – New Pathways for School Reform

October 11 – To fit the dark and rainy day, I spent the afternoon learning about current threats to the US federal budget and tax system; a discussion by Bob Greenstein, founder, and president of the CBPP. A lightning strike to the already dreary day hit as I learned that Michigan is at risk—42% of all Michigan spending comes from the federal government. This specifically affects the children of Michigan: if budget cuts go as planned, as the already low education budget in Michigan could be cut by 14%.

To provide some structure and clarity in regards to the state’s education budget, State Superintendent Brian Whiston spoke to address the current educational threats and issues. Whiston provided some truly innovative ideas to change schools and shared his efforts to get Michigan back on top. I was intrigued by his idea of using a ‘multiple pathway’ model for schools—an atypical learning environment for students who struggle to perform their best in a traditional classroom. Whiston’s plan would implement a school system that allows students to move up at their own pace rather than following an age-based grade system. The thinking behind a multiple pathways approach is that children who are the same age aren’t always at the same place academically, and this alternative school system would account for the individual differences among school children.

Something that I wish would have been implemented while I was in high school is Whiston’s hope to help high school students accumulate 60 college credits (paid for) by the time they receive their high school diploma. This plan has been backed by recent research in Michigan—students who graduate high school with at least a few college credits under their belt are much more likely to go on to get a bachelor’s degree than students who graduate with no college credits. I can definitely see why; not only are half of the college credits paid for by the state, but teens would be much more motivated to finish a degree program if they had already invested so much time and energy into completing half of it.

Possibly the most impressive part of the whole event was hearing how these educators are focused on the whole-child; their view of the ‘child’ never split off into ‘student’. These educators are focused on what happens outside of the classroom that affects the child’s sphere of learning. For example, if a child isn’t eating at home, they won’t perform well at school; if a child doesn’t have access to a dentist, a cavity can distract them from paying attention. Michigan is attempting to transition to a comprehensive whole-child approach.

As always, funding is the big issue. All of these ideas sound great in theory, but will not happen without monetary support. More money needs to be in special education programs. More money needs to go to schools that are in physically bad shape. More money needs to go to after-school programs, which are proven to help students both academically and socially. Essentially, the point is that a 14% spending cut would drastically hurt an already hurting education system. Luckily, there are educators in Michigan that care about children and want to help them grow and learn.

Maybe it isn’t such a dreary day after all.

Michigan’s Children continues our policy strategies that assist the state in these education goals set out by the Superintendent. We will work again with the Department and the Legislature to prioritize investment in multiple pathways like an adult and alternative education as well as competency-based options, in addition to a focus on the whole child approaches, including some targeted resources from recent increases to the state’s At-Risk funding. Read more about our whole child asks from last year’s budget process here, and our recommendations to focus better support on family literacy.

Courtney Hatfield is a student intern at Michigan’s Children for the academic year and will graduate this May with a degree in Social Work. Courtney is from Grand Rapids and is a graduate of Forest Hills High School.

What it Really Means to Put Kids First

October 2, 2017 – Community leaders and advocates convened at Wayne State University for a community forum hosted by the United Way for Southeastern Michigan and the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development.

Dr. Herman Gray, CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, shared an experience from his time as president of Children’s Hospital of Michigan. A child was being treated for an ailment which was not very serious but required several weeks of antibiotics. After keeping the child in the hospital receiving the medication through an IV, it was time to discharge the family with a prescription. When given directions to refrigerate the antibiotic, the child’s parent surprised the staff:

The family did not have a refrigerator at home.

I took two important lessons from this story:

  1. Poverty is real, and its impacts are real. How healthy can a family be if they are unable to keep perishable items at home? And, if there is no refrigerator in the house, what else might they be missing?
  2. Important instructions are given to parents and families every day for the care of their children. With what assumptions are well-intentioned professionals delivering these instructions and advice?

Writer and radio host Stephen Henderson, who keynoted the event, shared his experience with the Tuxedo Project, which he started in an effort to improve the quality of life in his old neighborhood by repurposing the house he grew up in on the west side of Detroit’s Tuxedo Street. The home had been abandoned in the years after his family moved out.

Based in part on conversations had throughout the past year with current Tuxedo Street residents, such as an elderly man living without power or running water and around the debris where a fire caved his second floor into his first floor, Henderson argued that urban poverty has become increasingly like rural poverty, characterized by isolation.

These stories stayed with me until later in the day, when an attendee shared information about a program run by her agency to benefit young children who have experienced trauma. When her team members began planning for the program’s implementation, they took a step back to think through and identify desired outcomes. Then, they determined what would be needed to achieve those intended outcomes for the children and families who would be enrolling in the program. It was then that I realized something I do not often hear in public discourse relating to social policy. We often hear about what the government’s role should be, how much funding should be allocated, and which programs and services should be prioritized. What I do not remember hearing much of, however, at least in bipartisan conversations, is what we actually want to see for all Michigan children.

Maybe we should start there. What do we want for kids? This is the conversation we need to be having. What do we want to see for Michigan’s children, and what do we need to do to get there? What do kids need to get to that point, and what policies, funding levels, and services will take them there? If we can start there – and truly prioritize those outcomes – we can begin to make long-term, positive improvements for Michigan’s children.

And, in a society where very few decision-makers have personally experienced poverty and its effects, it is critical that we think carefully about which voices are at the table when discussing solutions to these issues.

If we fail to include the voices of those most impacted, we risk wasting time and resources providing solutions which will not address the complete problems and therefore fail to be impactful – or, in other terms, we risk continuing to provide medications needing refrigeration to people without refrigerators.

Kayla Roney-Smith, Executive Director of the Hazel Park Promise Zone and College Access Network, attended the “Families First for 100 Years” community forum at Wayne State in Detroit. Here, Roney-Smith shares what major lessons she took from the event.

Meet Sherry, Our Newest Intern

September 27, 2017 – As a child, I developed a love for singing. I joined my first church choir at the age of 5 and I’ve been singing ever since. What I love about being a vocalist is that it allows me to be a part of something greater than myself. Music is a beautiful thing. It’s the language everyone speaks. It brings people together, provides inspiration, and is even used as a vehicle for raising awareness of social injustice. Like music, advocacy is about being a part of something greater and bringing people together to raise awareness of social injustice. It’s about changing lives for the better and bringing more justice to an unjust world. It was my belief in a more just society that inspired me to change careers and work toward becoming a social worker.

When I started graduate school at Michigan State University (Go Green!), I had no idea what an incredibly rewarding journey it would be. It’s been a challenge at times to be sure, but every minute has been worth it. Now that I am in my final year, I’m amazed by what I’ve learned. One of the most surprising things I’ve learned is that I love policy work. I never imagined I would find it interesting, but after my first policy class, I was hooked. Another big discovery was that I’m passionate about children’s issues.

For several years, I’ve been a volunteer for an agency that provides services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse, and I’ve seen first-hand how unjust the world can be. This is especially true for children who experience trauma. Seeing the effects of trauma instilled in me a deep desire to protect the interests of children. Reading the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study strengthened my resolve. The ACEs study identified a strong connection between childhood trauma and issues such as impaired neurological and cognitive development, social and emotional impairment, substance abuse, poor physical health, shortened lifespan, and an increased likelihood of exhibiting violent or criminal behavior in adulthood. The more traumatic events a child experiences before the age of 18, the more likely they are to develop these issues.

Children often don’t have a voice or a choice when it comes to their circumstances. They are one of our most vulnerable populations yet they are often overlooked. From poverty to abuse, children have no control over their situations. I believe it is our responsibility as adults to be their voice.

When I was offered an internship that combined two of my passions, children’s issues, and public policy, I was beyond excited. This is my opportunity to be a part of helping policymakers see the value of investing in children. This investment will not only improve the lives of children, it will also decrease the number of adults with substance abuse and other major health issues in the future. I’m thrilled to have the privilege of being a part of Michigan’s Children and hope that my work as an intern will be an asset to the organization.

Sherry Boroto is a native Pennsylvanian who transplanted to Michigan in 1999. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix and is currently in her final year of graduate school at Michigan State University where she is pursuing her master’s degree in social work. Her focus is on children’s issues and public policy.

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