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When a school closes, what happens to students and neighborhoods?

Jan 24, 2017

What happens to students and neighborhoods when a school closes?

That question was thrust into the spotlight with word late last week that Michigan's School Reform Office has put 38 low-performing schools on notice they could be shut down. Twenty-five of those schools are in Detroit.

Tomorrow, Michigan Radio’s State of Opportunity team will look at school closures in a new documentary called We Live Here.

"I think that's sort of the point of the documentary. They're just intimately intertwined, the fates of the two things, neighborhoods and schools."

In light of the 38 low-performing schools that may close in Michigan, the documentary’s creators, Jennifer Guerra and April Van Buren, joined Stateside to discuss what those closures could mean for affected students and communities.

Van Buren said Detroit is “exhibit A for the entire country” in terms of what happens when a school closes.

The city has closed more public schools than any other – almost 200 schools since 2000.

When a school is shut down in Detroit, Guerra said in her experience, all you have to do is drive around a neighborhood to witness the aftereffects.    

“In the neighborhoods I visited where there had been a school and the school was closed, the vast majority of the houses around that school would be vacant,” she said. “We do know property values go down, crime often goes up and families move, because, especially in Detroit, there’s not a lot of public transportation, so they move to where the next school is.”

It’s kind of like the chicken or the egg problem. Which came first? The school falling down or the neighborhood falling down.

"We Live Here" airs tomorrow at 3 p.m. and 10 p.m.

“I think that’s sort of the point of the documentary,” Guerra said. “They’re just intimately intertwined, the fates of the two things, neighborhoods and schools.”

To learn how school closings affect the students, listen above. You’ll also hear a preview of We Live Here, the State of Opportunity documentary coming tomorrow on Stateside.

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