Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Kalamazoo Promise: Genorosity trumps the pervasive mood of mean-spiritedness

These are gloomy days for anyone trying to understand where and when we took a turn for the worse and began to see dependence, unemployment, poverty, disability, and mental illness as an affront to our way of life, worthy of scorn and contempt.

People with developmental disabilities are not immune from this meanness of spirit, even within the "disability community". Federally-funded disability advocacy groups along with our misguided U.S. Department of Justice, seem hell-bent on bringing down the infra-structure of specialized services and residential options, especially those for people with the most severe disabilities, in the name of freedom and integration. Parents, other family members, and friends are dismayed by the seeming lack of understanding and compassion for their loved-ones. They are casually dismissed as interfering with the judgment of professionals, left out of decisions affecting their family members, and even blamed for keeping people with permanent life-long disabilities in a state of dependence.

This story from the Detroit Free Press,  "Kalamazoo Promise has changed more lives than just the students'" by Bob Jorth, 5/24/14, has nothing directly to do with developmental disabilities, but it is an example of how a small city in southwestern Michigan took on the daunting challenge of providing their children who graduate from Kalamazoo's public high schools with scholarships to any of Michigan's state colleges and universities. 65% to 100% of tuition, depending on the number of years of attendance in the public school system, is paid by anonymous donors to the Kalamazoo Promise .

According to the Detroit Free Press article, the Kalamazoo Promise benefits more than just the students:

"… Students graduating from Kalamazoo Public Schools will be graduating with the Kalamazoo Promise and its assurance that they can go to any of the 43 state-supported universities and community colleges tuition-free. This gift will allow them to focus on their dreams and passions rather than concentrate on how to pay for their education. To date, about 40% of Promise graduates are earning their degrees debt-free, and the median debt for others is less than $5,000

"We’ve seen improvements in K-12 test scores, average grade-point average, behavior and attitudes of students, parents and school staff and a decline in the drop-out rate. There is a 20% improvement in student performance at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where many first-generation students begin. And more than 90% of all graduates are now starting college in a district where 70% of its students receive free and reduced lunch." [emphasis added]

"…Measuring the full impact of the Kalamazoo Promise has just begun, and the work is difficult at best. Enrollment in the Kalamazoo Public Schools has increased nearly 25% since the announcement of the Promise."

And that is how generosity of spirit overcomes the impulse to turn away from our problems and lash out at our fellow citizens.

More on the Kalamazoo Promise from the New York Times, 9/13/12: "Why These Kids Get a Free Ride to College" by Ted Fishman.

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