Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, November 17, 2011

SPH part of project working to improve Detroit graduation rates

Students at Detroit's lowest-performing high schools will get extra help graduating through a grant to the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center (Detroit URC). The School of Public Health is a founding partner in the Detroit URC.

The $200,000 Roadmaps to Health Community Grant aims to improve the long-term health of Detroit residents by increasing graduation rates at several of Detroit's lowest-performing schools, which in turn results in better jobs and improved health. This grant is one of only 12 nationwide awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Skillman Foundation will provide an additional cash match of $100,000 for this project.

The grant will support a two-year effort to engage with schools identified by Michigan's Education Achievement Authority (EAA), the new statewide authority on underperforming schools. Specifically, the URC project targets schools in the Brightmoor, Chadsey/Condon, Cody Rouge, Northend/Central, Osborn, Southwest Detroit and Lower Eastside neighborhoods.

The on-time graduation rate in Wayne County, which includes Detroit, is 65 percent, compared to the state rate of 77 percent. It ranks last among the 82 counties in Michigan. There is considerable evidence that lower educational achievement predicts poorer health outcomes and shorter life expectancy.

The project, called Neighborhoods Taking Action: A Partnership Approach to Policy and Systems Change to Improve High School Graduation Rates and Health, aims to reverse this trend in Wayne County by engaging students and parents in designing and implementing EAA educational reforms. Research shows that parental and student engagement heavily influence educational outcomes, such as achievement and the decision to stay in school until graduation.

This project also will select at least one best practice for increasing high school graduation rates — such as establishing small learning communities — and will work with stakeholders in each of the aforementioned neighborhoods to determine what this change will look like depending on individual neighborhood and school needs.

The project is a collaborative research partnership that includes the following organizations: Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance, Communities In Schools of Detroit, the Detroit Department of Health & Wellness Promotion, Detroit Hispanic Development Corp., the Detroit Public Schools Office of Charter Schools, Friends of Parkside, Henry Ford Academy, The Skillman Foundation and the U-M School Of Public Health.

"This funding could not have come at a more opportune time for Detroit. It will provide us with the opportunity to collectively influence the direction and future of our children's education and well-being through strong and informed voices from our parents and youth," said Angela Reyes, an SPH alumna and executive director of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corp. and founding member of the Detroit URC. She's also on the projects steering committee.

The grants will be managed by Community Catalyst and are part of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, a collaboration of RWJF and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI).

"These projects are really exciting for two reasons: First, they are truly collaborations among diverse community partners who bring expertise, relationships and resources to improve people's health; and second, that in addition to health behaviors such as smoking and diet, they are focused on factors such as education, family relationships and income that heavily influence our health and quality of life," said Dr. James Marks, senior vice president and director of the Health Group at RWJF.

"Neighborhoods Taking Action will work directly with parents and residents to help ensure Detroit kids graduate from high school and go on to successful lives as adults," said Skillman Foundation President & CEO Carol Goss. "We're enthusiastic about this project, and we believe it will play an important role in Detroit's comeback."