Case Study 1 – “We Deserve a Say, too”

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A Valerie Jean Blakely photo

Photo Description: A few of the amazing youth leaders from the ECN Youth group after a Riverwise Writing Workshop held at the ECN. Pictured from left to right: Johnathon Cook, Everett Tate, Dominic Harris, Nashae Johnson, Bennington Aho, Megan Douglass 

We deserve a say, too: Southeastern High School Students demand accountability in the Community Benefits process.

In 2019 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles or FCA – now part of Stellantis– was approved to expand its plant on Detroit’s eastside. The expansion involved enough funds and land to trigger the Community Benefits Ordinance in Detroit and the process of creating a Neighborhood Advisory Council. Although the plant is now directly adjacent to Southeastern High School – during the CBO process there were conversations with the school administration, but there was never an effort to reach out to Southeastern High School students. We students are subjected to more traffic in and around the school, noise and air pollution at much higher levels than before, and the loss of a street, all because of the Stellantis location right next to the school. Stellantis has a history of lying about its emissions, proven in the article by CBS Detroit in August of 2022, which says, “FCA US, formerly known as Chrysler Group, was placed on probation for three years Monday and ordered to pay roughly $300 million for deceiving regulators about diesel emission systems on 101,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ram 1500 trucks.” 

Students spend eight or more hours at school each day. We believe they should receive community benefits. The student’s health and their education are affected by the factory. The Teen Advisory Council (many of us being Southeastern students) set out to find out what our fellow students – who spend their days just yards away from the factory – want from Stellantis in the way of Community Benefits.   

After sending out a survey and completing in-person interviews and focus groups with our classmates, we came up with a list of the top five things they would like to see. Along with an observation about what the presence of this factory means to their school:  

Creating a Driver’s Ed program 

Driver’s Ed classes were stopped in 2009 by DPSCD and consequently many students are driving to school without a license because we had no other way to get to school. Creating a Drivers Ed Program sponsored by Stellantis would make it easier for students to get their license/permits. It should be free for everyone to apply for it.  Many of us students do not get our license/permit because of the cost of the classes.  It should be open to everyone as soon as you get into high school. 

Parking Lot 

Building a new parking lot is essential because one of the main problems is that there are accidents happening in the parking lot because of the lack of space.  Students and faculty are taking up the student parking lot. That is not only a problem but a huge security risk with students having to leave our cars on the street and unwatched which could lead to our cars being stolen or parts taken away due to it being unsupervised. A new parking lot would add more space for vehicles. We students will be able to comfortably leave our cars and have them watched without the worries of our cars or parts being stolen. 

Investment in After-School Activities

Students would like to see Stellantis being a good neighbor and community supporter by investing in things like uniforms and equipment for sports teams and other extracurricular activities.  If monies were available for new sports equipment and for other activities- such as the choir or robotics, Southeastern students might have a greater variety of activities or at least those activities would be able to offer better opportunities.

Scholarships/Updated Technology

Stellantis has a responsibility to update technology, as a leading manufacturer of advanced automobiles. Southeastern students currently struggle using the technology at the school because it is outdated and leaves us in the dark. By sponsoring new laptops for school use, we would be able to complete our schoolwork faster, enable us to do remote classes when needed, and fully use the online systems within our school. We are entitled to have access to programs and scholarships as consolation for Stellantis’s neglect. Stellantis donates money to the Detroit Promise Scholarship Fund but students would like to see a designated fund set aside for students at Southeastern. Considering we are directly – maybe more directly than other parts of DPSCD – affected by having the factory right next to their school all day. This scholarship would enable more Southeastern students a chance at a postsecondary degree and advance their futures. 

Class Choice 

Education is a key right for all; this includes choosing the classes you have. At Southeastern High School there is a class offered in partnership with Stellantis called “Advanced Manufacturing” that is designed to teach students how the management of a factory is run. At the end of the two-year program, students are eligible for a higher position in the local factory.  This sounds like a great deal on paper, however, the problem is students who don’t desire to learn the material or take a job in the factory are being placed in the class with no way to switch out. “Advanced manufacturing is labeled as career exploration which gives the wrong idea, it only explores one option,” says Nashae Johnson. These students will not benefit from the class and lose an opportunity to learn about a course they might find more interesting or might relate to their interests better.

This push for students to take the manufacturing classes is part of an intentional system we have dubbed- The School to Factory Pipeline. Named after The School to Prison Pipeline and coined by youth at Eastside Community Network’s The Vault. This pipeline leads students to factory work. Much like the School to Prison Pipeline- students are in a system that steers them to see factory work as the only or best means to be successful when they leave school. Stellantis pushes this agenda even further by encouraging students to take these classes to secure an internship working in the plant. Students are not exposed to other professions in the automobile industry like engineering or design despite Southeastern in its name being the school for Technology & Law. There are many students with talents and skills that are outside of the agenda but those are not encouraged- instead, Stellantis is training (at no or little cost) their future workforce.  If Stellantis is claiming to provide great opportunities, students should get to participate based on choice instead of being forced in this direction. 

We the students at Southeastern High School should have been included in the Community Benefits process and since they were left out – Stellantis should make an effort to find out what benefits the youth would like to see.

By: Nashae Johnson, Johnathan Cook, Bennington Aho, Dominic Harris, Shamiah Woods, Xylon Holmes, Isaiah Bell, Javeon Jenkins, and Kayla Jemison