Detroit, as a working class city, has always made a large contribution to that prosperity. In recent history, Detroit men and women created the arsenal of democracy, and they are now recreating Detroit itself.
Not too long ago, getting a job was easy as a Detroiter. Jobs at the local auto plants guaranteed good pay and benefits. A high school education was not required. But that has changed.
“Today, jobs have different requirements. A high school diploma – or General Education Degree (GED) -- is required for many entry level jobs, including jobs in retail, food service, manufacturing and trucking,” says Diane Renaud, Executive Director and CEO, St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Center (SVSF) in Detroit.
The consequences of life without a high school diploma are staggering, notes Renaud. If adults are illiterate or have dropped out of high school, they are more likely to be living in poverty, unemployed or under unemployed, hold very low paying jobs, spend time in jail and have poor health.
The St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Center (SVSF) helps break that cycle at four locations throughout the city. The center offers free, personalized educational programs to at-risk children and adults so they can succeed academically and in the job market.
There are 230,000 Detroit adults who need a GED, according to the State of Michigan’s Annual Adult Education Conference. The National Institute for Literacy estimates indicate 47% of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate as compared to 18% of the adults who are functionally illiterate in the State of Michigan.
More than 80% of the adult students at SVSF indicate they are seeking their GED to better support their families. “We help them with a personalized program with no timeline. Each student's work plan emphasizes their strengths, meets their challenges and allows them to work at their own pace,” says Renaud.
SVSF’s success rate validates its approach. A typical first-time GED test pass rate for Detroit is 25% vs. a 95% first time pass rate for SVSF students, which means that these adults are able to get jobs much sooner. SVSF helps them by providing resources for higher educational opportunities, vocational training and/or assistance in seeking employment.
The SVSF also has free, personalized after-school and summer education programs for grades 1-5. The primary goal for the children is to build the skills necessary for them to meet grade level national standards so they can continue to progress through elementary and high school.
According to Excellent Schools Detroit, only 3% of Detroit's 4th graders and 4% of its 8th graders meet national standards. Statistics also show that if a child falls behind in reading and math skills by the fourth grade, they are less likely to complete their education so they are more likely to be at-risk for alternative activities, such as crime, drugs, etc.
The children’s program shows promising results in reading: 34% of children at SVSF increased by one-half grade level within one semester and 21% of children increased by one grade level within one semester.
“We salute all the working men and women in Detroit this Labor Day and we are inspired every day by our students who are making education a priority for themselves and their families as a way to build a better life,” says Renaud.
St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Center began in 1844 as St. Vincent’s Academy in Detroit, a kindergarten for orphaned children. The organization evolved through the years and moved to Farmington Hills, establishing an adoption/foster care residence for children. In 2006, when policies and the economy changed, the Center closed its residential doors, but wanted to continue to fulfill its mission of serving at-risk children and adults. Identifying the significant need, the Center returned to Detroit and its roots of education and now provides free, personalized educational support for children and adults. These programs are designed to help build self-sufficiency skills for academic and employment success, personal achievement and dignity.