Gabrielle Emanuel

Walking to work in the Mission District of San Francisco, John Luna noticed a pattern. Just after the first and the 15th of the month, he says, he saw long lines of people.

"It's like trying to get into the most popular nightclub in the city," says Luna. But what he found at the front of the line was not a bar or lounge. Instead, the long lines led to check cashing outlets and payday lenders.

Four guys walk into a diner.

One, in a plaid shirt, sells golf equipment online. His name is Chris Regan. Two — Eric Schiffhauer and Jordan Wagner — are midway through their Ph.D.'s at Johns Hopkins University.

And the other, Jebree Christian, is a recent high school graduate from West Baltimore. His arms are covered in tattoos, most of them commemorating someone he has lost.

Each Sunday, they gather here at Jimmy's on Baltimore's harbor.

Twenty years ago, Aimée Eubanks Davis taught in a middle school that served low-income kids in New Orleans.

She didn't define success in terms of test scores. Instead, she focused on the future, wanting her students to graduate from college and find a good job.

Eubanks Davis remembers when some of her earliest students first began that process, sending out resumes and preparing for job interviews.

"Oh, my goodness," she remembers thinking. "This is the moment you want to see: your former students living their dreams."

On San Jose State University's lush inner-city campus, students in their graduation gowns pose with their families in front of ivy-covered buildings.

They're the lucky ones.

Just 10 percent of students graduate from this public university in four years. After six years, it's only a bit more than half.

Think about that — of 100 students who enrolled four years ago, only 10 will walk across the stage this year.

That sounds low, but you can find these kind of numbers at lots of universities in the U.S.

New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport is among the busiest in the country: More than 1,000 flights touch down and take off each day. More than 50 million passengers hurry through its gates each year.

But something else is happening, too.

Not far from the waxed floors of the terminals and the automated voice proclaiming the end of the moving walkway, there's a school. And a classroom that has six wheels, two wings and a tail. It is a Boeing 727, parked on the tarmac near the hangars and warehouses.

Part of NPR's Your Money And Your Life series

"How many of you guys have $1,200 in your pocket right now?"

Victor Robertson's voice echoes through the auditorium at Ballou High School in Washington, D.C., where 700 students are taking their seats.

Robertson is from the city's Summer Youth Employment Program, which connects 13,500 young adults with summer jobs at places like CVS and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

On a quiet street in Detroit, light pours into the back windows of the Kirksey home. In the back of the house the walls are lined with textbooks, workbooks and multicultural children's books. It's a home — but it's also a classroom.

Brandon, 8, is wearing pajamas and a paper crown from Burger King. He heads into the back room and pulls a large laminated world map off the bookshelf.

"This is the whole entire map! Michigan," he says enthusiastically pointing to his home state. His two siblings, Zachary, 3, and Ariyah, 1, echo him.

Standing at the foot of Mount Wachusett's slopes, Ray Jackman bends over and hoists Robbie McAllister out of his wheelchair and onto two neon yellow skis.

The teenager squeezes into a thick plastic seat mounted just above the skis.

"OK, there are a bunch of straps," says Jackman as he buckles the crisscrossing seatbelts.

Jackman is a program coordinator at the Massachusetts Hospital School, a state-run facility. It's half school, half pediatric hospital, and all 85 students are patients, with serious, long-term conditions.

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