My student, a high school sophomore, was multiple reading levels behind. She needed a great deal of support.

She was kind, sweet, and quirky. She was obsessed with singer Ariana Grande. But she was also being bullied. I was a tutor, hired by an agency to work in a Detroit school. I had little training or experience working with youth, and I felt ill-equipped to truly help her.

The experience taught me a lesson. So much of the public discourse surrounding education in public schools focuses on what’s happening to students like the one I was tutoring. Too little time is spent asking them what they think about their circumstances. 

But I want to ask those questions, and that’s why I’m thrilled to begin a new role at Chalkbeat Detroit. I’ll cover the Detroit school district and work to give a stronger voice to those who have the most at stake: students, teachers, and parents.

The time I spent tutoring and my new job have given me an opportunity to reflect back on my experiences. My education story took place miles away from where my pop-star-loving student grew up.

Eleanore Catolico, far right, with friends at a National Honor Society ceremony.

I attended an academically rigorous, parochial high school in suburban Detroit. My parents, who were immigrants from the Philippines, ingrained in me that academic achievement was the key to surviving in America. Each day in the classroom, I felt the pressure to outperform my peers. 

When I was 15, I remember crying after I got a B on an essay in American literature, my favorite subject. I felt I had something to prove. I was burdened by academic stress throughout my college tenure.  

Looking back, my student’s struggles mirrored mine as a teen girl. I was eccentric, shy, and also bullied. I had a difficult time making friends and battled low self-esteem. But my school provided me with the resources and critical support needed for me to overcome my personal obstacles. So many students in Detroit’s main school district don’t have those options.  

I am joining the Chalkbeat Detroit team at a crucial point in the history of the Detroit Public Schools Community District. After nearly a decade under state-appointed emergency managers, Detroit’s main school district is in the midst of rebuilding. District leaders have overhauled the curriculum and showed improvements in the latest test scores. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is pushing for equity in school funding and holding meetings in Detroit to address how to manage the district’s deteriorating buildings.  

Michigan’s third-grade reading law is in full effect this year as districts rally to prepare students to pass the state’s standardized exam or else possibly be held back a year.   

The outcomes of these efforts to improve urban education in Detroit could have long-standing, dramatic consequences.  

I come to Chalkbeat Detroit with a strong background in working with community members to develop stories. Most recently, I was the civic reporter for 101.9 FM WDET, Detroit’s public radio station, covering city government.

I hope to produce stories that help Detroiters understand the impact of district policies on schools, teachers, students, and their families.

Most of all, I want students to tell me their stories. I want to document their struggles but also their stories of empowerment and resilience.  

Schools are the lifeblood of neighborhoods. To improve our coverage, I hope to help our bureau chief Lori Higgins and reporter Koby Levin develop innovative and concrete ways to reach new readers, with a focus on broadening our audience to include students and parents. We don’t want them just to be the subjects of our stories, but participants that help shape our coverage. Chalkbeat Detroit is for these communities too, not just policymakers and experts.  

This work only matters if you are there to guide us along the way.  

Please reach out to me at ecatolico@chalkbeat.org or to the whole team at detroit.tips@chalkbeat.org. Our journalism is stronger when our stories are inclusive, diverse, and working toward influencing the local civic debate on urban education.