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In 2009, the adults of Baldwin, Michigan, made a promise to their kids, the students at Baldwin Community Schools.

If you studied hard and applied for higher education, they’d give you $5,000 a year for four years to make sure you got to go.

The Baldwin Promise was inspired by a similar promise made by the people of Kalamazoo, Michigan, to their kids in 2005. Along with 10 other regions in the Michigan Promise Zone, Baldwin provides up to $20,000 in academic funds for students who want to pursue further schooling. The money can be used at any public university or community or private college in the state of Michigan. All students need in order to qualify is to live in Baldwin from ninth grade until graduation, to be accepted at a higher learning institution, and to qualify for Pell grants. The Baldwin Promise makes up the difference.


Many of the students at Baldwin High School don't have a lot of options after graduation — that's where the Baldwin Promise comes in and provides college scholarships for those in need. A Starbucks original series.

Posted by Upworthy on Thursday, September 15, 2016

For students here, this promise means everything. Particularly when the odds seem stacked against them.

Baldwin, like many small rural areas in the Midwest, is very poor.

There’s no manufacturing and very few job opportunities. According to the most recent Census data, 29.2% of the people in Lake County (where Baldwin is) live below the poverty level; it's among the highest in all of Michigan. For young people, the statistics are even less encouraging. In 2012, 53.4% of children in Lake County lived in poverty with 93.4% of the school district’s 524 students qualifying for free or reduced-price school lunches. In this kind of environment, kids can often think that the world of higher education is far beyond their reach.

Shaddarius Scott is graduating from Baldwin Community Schools this year and headed to college in the fall. Growing up homeless, her future is one she’d never have imagined for herself.

"College was not even a thought in my mind. I was too busy worrying about the next meal and not the next step in life. With an opportunity like the Baldwin Promise, I was able to afford something that was not there for me."

Images via Starbucks.

"When you grow up in an environment where you’re told, 'You can’t be anything, you can’t afford to be anything' — to go from that to 'You can be whatever you want to be,' it’s like, 'Whoa, really?'"

As Baldwin graduates start to thrive, the Baldwin Promise has started to change the way this school district thinks about education at every level.

Now, from kindergarten onward, they prepare their students for what happens after graduation. The College Access Center helps students and parents with whatever they need — from filling out funding applications to researching schools to choosing where to go. They also organize the school’s annual Decision Day, when seniors stand in front of a cheering crowd of friends, family, and community members to announce where they’ve decided to go for higher education.

Makaylah George is one of the students in Baldwin’s graduating class this year. She applied to 13 colleges and universities. Standing in her yellow "accepted" T-shirt, she beamed. "I was accepted to all 13 of them."

Seeing these children succeed is the biggest reward for the community members who’ve invested in the Baldwin Promise.

Ellen Kerans was part of the team that came up with the Baldwin Promise. She remembers the enthusiasm people had during their early days of fundraising. "We had some grandparents say, 'I can only give $20 a month; is that enough?' and we would say 'Oh my gosh, that is more than enough.'" Within just a few months, they’d raised $160,000 — $40,000 more than their original goal.

"We didn’t anticipate the sort of grassroots support that we got. These were not people who had a lot of means, but [they] had a lot of vision."

In every way, the Baldwin Promise is succeeding.

In its first year, 14 students in the 23-person graduating class enrolled in college, up from just eight the year before. Now a full 50% of students who graduate high school in Baldwin enroll in higher education institutions within one year. That's a 13% increase from before the program began.

Getting through college is still demanding — financially, psychologically, and academically — and it’ll still be a few years before stats on college completion are available. In the meantime, there’s one more remarkable statistic worth sharing. It’s 95.3%: the percent of Baldwin parents who believe their kids will attend college because of this program.

That’s real hope — and a promise worth keeping.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Trial Cold Open - SNL www.youtube.com

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