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In 2016, Albion residents voted to annex their struggling public schools to Marshall. Students in Albion used to attend an almost entirely low-income, majority African-American district. Now, middle and high school students get bussed into Marshall, a town that is white-majority and middle-class.But how are Albion students adjusting, and what lead to Albion Public Schools' demise in the first place? Can Marshall overcome the difficulties of teaching at-risk students?Michigan Radio is taking a look at the impact the annexation has had on students, families, and the community.

The growing pains of annexation in Albion and Marshall

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April Van Buren
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Michigan Radio

In May of 2016, residents of Albion voted to have their school district annexed by neighboring Marshall.

This week, Michigan Radio examined the impact the annexation has had on students, families, and the community in the three-part series, UN/DIVIDED.

In case you missed it, check out a summary of the series here:

When Albion residents voted for annexation, their local school system was experiencing an shockingly low enrollment after years of losing students to other districts through school of choice.

Albion Public Schools, Student Population 2002-2015
Credit Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio
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Michigan Radio
Albion Public Schools went from over 1,800 students in 2002, to just 438 in 2015.

But the vote was contentious.

“You would see people who had known each other for years, like friends for years, just because of this one thing stop talking," says Albion College sophomore Jontaj Wallace. 

Albion College sophomore Jontaj Wallace
Credit April Van Buren / Michigan Radio
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Michigan Radio
Albion College sophomore Jontaj Wallace.

Middle and high school students in Albion are now bussed into Marshall, a much whiter and wealthier city.

But the Marshall district still has one elementary school in the city of Albion. That school is Harrington Elementary.

UN/DIVIDED, Part One: For some Albion families, annexation has been a tough adjustment
 

Children line up for school outside of Harrington Elementary.
Credit April Van Buren / Michigan Radio
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Michigan Radio
Children line up for school outside of Harrington Elementary.

The percentage of low-income students at Harrington is at least double that of every other Marshall elementary school. And unlike the three K-5 buildings located in Marshall, a majority of the students at Harrington are children of color. 

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Credit Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio
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Michigan Radio

The school’s first year was marked by a number of problems. The most concerning for many parents was the high number of out-of-school suspensions. Harrington Elementary had a little over 260 students last year. It had more than 160 out-of-school suspensions.

Wanda Kemp's son, Zy'Airh, is in the third grade at Harrington. She says, “You prep our children for a system. I don't want to see my son in the [criminal justice] system when he's older."

UN/DIVIDED, Part Two: In Albion, school choice led to school closures

 

Wanda Kemp and her son, Zy'Airh.
Credit April Van Buren / Michigan Radio
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Michigan Radio
Wanda Kemp and her son, Zy'Airh.

This year, the Marshall is promising big changes. Harrington has a new principal, Robert Giles. There has been just one out-of-school suspension. And the school is piloting a new program to help kids who’ve faced trauma.

UN/DIVIDED, Part Three: More than a year after annexation, a cautious optimism in Albion

 

Harrington elementary students
Credit April Van Buren / Michigan Radio
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Michigan Radio
Things are starting to turn around at Harrington.

But for some Albion community members, that’s not enough. They want to give Albion Public Schools a second chance.

“We want a push for legislation that would create an avenue for dissolved and annexed districts to recreate themselves," says Albion city council member Sonya Brown.

Sonya Brown and other Albion community members that continue to fight annexation.
Credit April Van Buren / Michigan Radio
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Michigan Radio
Sonya Brown (front, left) and other Albion community members that continue to fight annexation.

In order to succeed, Marshall will have to do what Albion could not: convince parents to keep their kids in the local school.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to clarify the economic status of students at Harrington in comparison to Marshall's other three elementary schools. 

Emma is a producer for the digital content team at Michigan Radio. Her duties span all things web-related, from news reporting and photography to digital fundraising and graphic design. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
April Van Buren
April Van Buren is a producer for Stateside. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.
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