Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Features

March 27, 2014

Detroit's children

For kids of bankrupt Detroit, challenges abound

DETROIT (AP) — In a city scarred by broken promises, the Moore brothers, James and Robert, and fellow student Chelsea Inyard are among the lucky ones. The teenagers attend one of Detroit's most promising new public schools.

Set in the medical district of the city's Midtown neighborhood, Dr. Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine, just three years old, offers a rigorous curriculum, gung-ho teachers and gleaming facilities. One recent day, anatomy students studied the Latin terms for parts of the eye; a literature class discussed the psychology of love.

Yet, while the students welcome the opportunities, the challenges of just getting to and from school are a daily reminder that theirs is a city in the throes of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, where life places special stresses on young people.

Teachers and parents are fighting to do right by the children, and many believe Detroit is finally on the rise after hitting bottom. Yet they worry about the toll of growing up amid danger, dysfunction and the blight epitomized by tens of thousands of abandoned homes.

"This is what we're ingraining into kids' psyches — this emptiness, the lack of safety," said Tonya Allen, CEO of the Skillman Foundation, which backs many new, child-oriented initiatives. "They're going into school with a level of fear that something bad is going to happen."

The landscape includes 88 vacant school buildings that are up for sale — some of the 200 schools closed in recent years due to depopulation. At many schools still open, frequent power outages have created a literal gloom.

High levels of gang violence and premature births combine to make the youth mortality rate the worst of any major U.S. city, according to a recent analysis by the Detroit News.

Even the city's 300 parks — traditionally a haven for children to play — have mostly become unusable, overgrown wastelands.

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