Sarah Alvarez

Public Insight Journalist

Sarah is the Senior Producer/Public Insight Analyst at Michigan Radio. Her job is to encourage people to share what they know and become sources for Michigan Radio and to help tell those stories.

Before coming back to Michigan and jumping into journalism Sarah was a civil rights lawyer in New York and a consultant to social justice organizations in California. She graduated from the University of Michigan, Columbia Law School and the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

She lives in Ann Arbor with her wonderful husband and three wonderful, busy kids.

 

Pages

12:15 pm
Wed October 15, 2014

Finding mental health care for kids in Michigan depends on what you know, where you live

Lead in text: 
Three of Michigan Radio's projects: MI curious, State of Opportunity, and Infowire, have come together to report a story about children's mental health. Here's the result.
Parents that have a kid with a serious mental illness are well acquainted with frustration. Annie Kitching is one of these parents. In addition to the challenges of parenting a mentally ill child, Kitching, who lives near Lansing, also ran into a lot of roadblocks trying to find mental health care that could make a difference for two of her kids.
9:55 am
Wed October 8, 2014

Teaching black kids about the police: "They have legal authority to kill you."

Lead in text: 
Dustin Dwyer sat in on a "know your rights" training this week that was really a forum on how young black people can survive interactions with police.
The gymnasium at the Baxter Community Center in Grand Rapids started filling up a little before six Monday night. Dinner was provided. Parents and kids loaded up Styrofoam plates, then sat down with their meals at the rows of tables. It was a full house.
9:57 am
Wed October 1, 2014

Taking inspiration from Cookie Monster to teach kids impulse control (he's got a few things to learn.)

Lead in text: 
One of the most famous studies about how important impulse control is gets called the "marshmallow study." Enter the "cookie monster study," about how to actually teach kids that impulse control. And, more importantly what not to do.
Today, we have a story about the time one of the most famous television characters in history re-enacted one of the most famous psychology experiments in history. The character is Cookie Monster. And the experiment, well for Cookie Monster, it was called a game: The game Cookie Monster played is based on a series of experiments that have come to be known as the Marshmallow Test.
8:18 pm
Wed September 17, 2014

Homicides are down in Michigan, but is it fair to call it a trend?

Lead in text: 
Dustin Dwyer reports on lower homicide rates in cities across the state. But there's a caveat. "We have to be careful about getting excited before we can see if it’s a one-year blip," says Wendy Regoeczi, director of the Criminology Research Center at Cleveland State University.
The numbers are down 30% in Flint. They were down 70% in Saginaw through July. Down 66% in Grand Rapids through June. Down 14% in Detroit, and on pace for the lowest annual total in decades. The reports are preliminary, but homicides in many of Michigan's cities are way down compared to last year.
Education
3:48 pm
Wed September 10, 2014

New scam targets Michigan schools with fake bills for "Common Core" materials

Credit images money / flickr

Here's how the scam works: A Michigan school might get a fake bill for new “Common Core standards aligned” language arts materials. The bill isn't huge; it’s always been reported as $647.50, so it might slip under a school’s radar.

Lisa Dilg works at the Eastern Michigan Better Business Bureau. She says the other reason the scam might work is because the fake invoices closely resemble invoices from a known education materials supplier.

Read more
3:47 pm
Wed September 10, 2014

"I want people to not be afraid to reach out and help someone else."

Lead in text: 
State of Opportunity is running an occasional series about the people who make the decision to try to tackle childhood poverty one kid at a time. We’re calling this series, "One Person Who Cared."
People who manage to overcome poverty in childhood don't succeed by accident. They work hard, of course, but usually, they also have some help. And often, that help can be traced back to one person who decided to make a difference. We're running an occasional series about the people who make that decision.
9:37 am
Wed August 13, 2014

What makes a kid "hard to place" in a foster home, and who is willing to take them?

Lead in text: 
Dustin Dwyer profiles the Goodson family in this weeks State of Opportunity feature. Stacy Goodson says, "If a child showed up at your doorstep, hungry, needing somewhere to live, you would let them come stay with you. ... we sign up to be the doorstep that they show up on."
Rosslyn Bliss leads the way across a boardwalk on a five-acre piece of land on the north side of Grand Rapids to a one-story light-brown building. This building is an emergency shelter for kids who've been removed from their home by the state. "We serve ...
1:30 pm
Wed August 6, 2014

A vision for how to make school choice work better in Detroit

Lead in text: 
Excellent Schools Detroit tries to help parents navigate the educational landscape in Detroit. Dan Varner heads up the group, and says the amount of choice is simply overwhelming. Dustin Dwyer sat down with Varner to learn more about what he thinks can help and how Varner got to where he is.
Dan Varner went to law school, dreaming he could change the world. When he got out, he got a job at a firm that handled class-action discrimination lawsuits. "Got what I thought was a great job at a great firm," he says. "And became one of many unhappy attorneys."
10:41 am
Wed July 30, 2014

Violence is everywhere, and these young people in Flint have had enough.

Lead in text: 
Crime is down in Flint, but the city has still seen more than 800 violent crimes since the beginning of the year. State of Opportunity has the story of two young people trying to deal with the effects of all that violence, and the mentors trying to help them.
The Haskell Youth Center is on the front lines of violence prevention in Flint. They don't use a complicated formula; there are just plenty of positive activities and positive adults. On any given day there are about 200 kids spread throughout the game room, the cafeteria, and a gym where the basketball games never seem to stop.
Families & Community
7:45 am
Wed June 18, 2014

Detroit groups get Head Start funds in wake of DPS blunder

A federal pilot program will fund more than 1,000 additional Head Start spots in Detroit and additional services for those families and children.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

A group of organizations in Detroit announced that today they got official word they'll be sharing around $50 million in federal funds over the course of five years for early childhood education programs.

Read more
Education
3:08 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

For school featured in "The Education Gap," some victories and more challenges

A recess time basketball game at Meyers Elementary in Taylor.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

At the beginning of the school year, Jennifer Guerra spent a lot of time at two different schools for her documentary, The Education Gap. One of the schools had plenty of resources, the other did not.

Jen went back to the school where poverty is a real struggle for nearly all of the students. There have been some changes since she last visited. For example, school officials now say its OK for us to identify the school on air (we refer to the school as School X in the documentary.) 

It's Myers Elementary in Taylor. But whether it's referred to as School X or Myers, the school is still caught in the nexus of having few tools to deal with some of society's most complicated problems. 

But there have been several smaller, more personal victories. The principal has convinced some kids that college is an option they can and should be serious about. And some of the kids hungry for more challenging academics have gotten more attention. 

Read and listen to what difference a year makes at State of Opportunity

 

Law
3:22 pm
Tue June 3, 2014

State Supreme Court changes child welfare practice, says "one-parent" rule unconstitutional

Credit photo courtesy of the MI Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled a practice by the state's child welfare system is unconstitutional. 

Yesterday the State Supreme Court struck down a 12-year-old rule they said violated the constitution because it allowed the state to punish both parents for abuse or neglect of a child for whom only one parent was responsible, even when parents were not living together.

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Families & Community
10:34 am
Wed May 28, 2014

Here's what it's like to live off tips in Michigan

Credit Andrew Stawarz / flickr

Denise Gleich is a 30-year veteran of the restaurant industry in Michigan.

She's raised three daughters on the wages and tips she earned, but says the industry has changed and she wants out. 

Tipped workers will make 60% less than minimum wage under legislation Governor Snyder signed into law on Tuesday. 

The majority of tipped workers are women.

I took the State of Opportunity story booth to a recent gathering of women talking about economic security.

Gleich was the first woman to walk into that room.

Read and listen to her story here.

2:12 pm
Wed May 21, 2014

Do your homework or hold down a job? How about both.

Lead in text: 
Jennifer Guerra visits a Catholic High School using an apprenticeship model to give their students a competitive advantage.
School is almost over for the year, and one Detroit high school has lots to celebrate. The entire graduating class has been accepted to college. Nearly all
11:49 am
Wed May 7, 2014

How one teen escaped gang life in Detroit

Lead in text: 
Jennifer Guerra from the State of Opportunity team talks to one young man who says advice from his mom and hope for his brothers made a difference in his decision to leave gang life behind.
Gang life is a reality for a lot of kids who live in poor neighborhoods. There are parts of Detroit, for example, where gangs run the blocks. Here's the
2:51 pm
Thu April 24, 2014

State of Opportunity documentary: Growing up in poverty and pollution

Lead in text: 
At 3:00 p.m today you can tune into Lester Graham's documentary, "Growing up in poverty and pollution," produced for State of Opportunity. Or, you can listen to the compelling stories these families anytime over at State of Opportunity.
In Michigan, thousands of kids suffer with diseases that are worsened by poverty and pollution. It's a combination that's costing society far more than
Families & Community
1:37 pm
Mon March 3, 2014

State of Opportunity has a new project and needs your tax stories

Credit R. Kurtz / flickr

We're getting ready for a new project here at State of Opportunity, and we're excited about it.

We'll take the experiences of families in towns and cities around the state and turn them into useful news – the kind of news that usually travels between two people when they talk about the way things really work.

Part of what makes this project work are stories and insights from you and the people you know. 

Right now, we're looking for stories about taxes.

Read more
Education
9:35 am
Wed February 5, 2014

Student and school prepare for a father's deportation

Charlie and his family
Credit facebook

Update: The office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued the following statement to Michigan Radio," After a thorough review of Mr. Sanchez-Ronquillo's case. The agency has granted a one-year Stay of Removal." We are updating our earlier story now. 

Charlie is seven years old, a second-grader at an Ann Arbor elementary school. Over the last week, his picture has been all over facebook. It's also on flyers and email as his church and parents at his school try to organize around his family.

Read the updated story at State of Opportunity.

 

Read or listen to the entire story at State of Opportunity.

Education
10:49 am
Wed November 13, 2013

Does diversity make for better schools?

Coverage of desegregation in Detroit's public schools in the Detroit Free Press.
Credit clipping courtesy of Ray Litt / via Detroit Free Press

In short, the answer is 'we don't really know.'

Stanford University's Sean Reardon studies achievement gaps - the difference between how one group of students performs compared to another group.

When comparing black, white, and Latino students, Reardon says you see the importance not so much of race, but of class.

"Over the last 40 or so years, the black-white achievement gap and the Hispanic-white achievement gap have narrowed a lot," Reardon said. "On the other hand, the gap between high and low income students has increased quite dramatically."

Reardon said that particular gap has grown about 40% since the 1980s. 

But while economic diversity might matter more in ensuring a quality education, that doesn't mean people want to give up on racial and ethnic diversity.

Ray Litt, a community activist involved in Detroit's Milliken v. Bradley case, reflected, "The desegregation action was to provide a quality integrated venue in which students and staff are exposed to and can interact with kids of different races religions and economic status," he said. "We all need to be able to be comfortable, not tolerating, a society that is the melting pot."

Racial diversity is not something you are likely to find in a majority of Detroit's schools, even after a hard fought desegregation plan.

Read more and listen to the whole story at State of Opportunity.

Read more
Education
2:18 pm
Tue November 12, 2013

3 things to know about the history of Detroit busing

Newspaper clippings from Detroit's busing era.
Credit clipping courtesy of Ray Litt / via Detroit Free Press

For State of Opportunity,  I've been wading through hours of audio and stacks of research for months about Detroit's mid-1970's busing controversy.

 More specifically, the educational fall-out from the Milliken v. Bradley case.  Here's what happened.

1. Busing was used as a last resort to fix segregated schools. 

Read more

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