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Jennifer Guerra

Reporter/Producer

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.

Her stories and documentaries have won numerous regional and national awards, and her work has aired on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace and Studio 360.

Jennifer graduated from the University of Michigan and received her M.A. in broadcast journalism from Fordham University. When she's not on the radio, she and her husband are making up lyrics to songs and singing them to their adorable baby girl.  

Ways to Connect

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Michigan school districts are struggling with growing budget deficits. Even relatively wealthy districts are facing unprecedented cuts.

The Ann Arbor Public School district faces a $17.8 million deficit. The district's budget for the 2011-12 school year is $183 million. 

Deputy Superintendent of Operations Robert Allen met with the district's Board of Education on Wednesday, where he laid out three possible plans to deal with the deficit in Ann Arbor – each one progressively more severe. 

All three proposals include:

  • teacher layoffs: Plan A: 32 teachers; Plan B: 48 teachers; Plan C: 64 teachers
  • closing Roberto Clemente, one of two alternative high schools in the district
  • cuts to transportation*

*Plan C calls for getting rid of high school bus routes entirely.

Ann Arbor School Board president Deb Mexicotte says the cuts are "reaching the bone," and "if you keep cutting, you’re going to reach the place where you can no longer maintain what you do well."

Mexicotte blames the state for what she says its chronic under-funding of education:

"This is not the story of our smallest districts or our districts that have struggled because of their tax revenue package. We’re talking about districts that people generally think are insulated from these kinds of things." She adds, "we’re all in this together."

U of M GEO

The issue of whether or not certain University of Michigan graduate students can unionize is back in the news.

Two graduate students at the University of Michigan have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in an effort to overturn a new state law that prohibits U of M graduate student research assistants, or GSRAs, from collective bargaining.

Public Act 45 effectively says GSRAs are primarily students, not public employees, and therefore don’t have the right to form a union.

Sam Montgomery is with the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), a labor union at U of M. She says the law violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. constitution:

"It singles out this group of individuals and withholds them from a right that is granted to other public employees without giving a rational based in fact as to why they are not employees."

Last May, the U of M Board of Regents voted 6 to 2 to recognize the university's roughly 2,200 GSRAs as public employees with the right to vote to form a union.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission found otherwise in a 1981 ruling. The Commission was in the middle of holding its own administrative hearing on the issue when Governor Snyder signed Public Act 45 into law.

user jdurham / morgueFile

Beginning this summer, the University of Michigan will offer a number of online classes that anyone from anywhere in the world can take…for free.

A professor from the U of M business school will teach a class on finance. Want to know about electronic voting in time for the November presidential election? You can take a course called securing digital democracy.

U of M English professor Eric Rabkin will teach a class on fantasy and science fiction, which is scheduled to go live this summer:

Photo courtesy of Abby Rose Photo

The Ann Arbor Film Festival wrapped up less than a month ago…they’ve barely packed up their film reels.  And already the Michigan Theater is prepping for yet another festival to open next month called Cinetopia.

This new, international festival will feature more traditional narrative film and documentaries, rather than the experimental films that dominate the Ann Arbor Film Fest.

user ladydragonflycc / Flickr

What do experimental composer John Cage and Ann Arbor have in common, you ask? Morels. Story goes that John Cage was something of an amateur mushroom hunter, and he used to hunt for morels in the woods around Ann Arbor.

And since Spring means morel hunting season in Michigan, and many mushroom-enthusiasts are out foraging for the delicacy, a group in Ann Arbor is putting a musical twist on the annual spring hunt.

To celebrate what would be Cage’s 100th birthday this year, U of M music professor Michael Gurevich teamed up with U of M mycology professor Tim James for a new kind of morel hunt.

"I thought, as an homage to Cage, let’s create this performance where we tell stories, which Cage really liked to do, while hunting for edible mushrooms in the woods," explains Gurevich.

user whatimeantosay / morgueFile

The city of Jackson is capitalizing on its long history as the site of a state prison.

In addition to guided prison tours, visitors can now buy prison-related items at the city’s new prison gift shop.

When the Jackson State Prison closed in 2007, it was turned into a live-work space for artists known as the Armory Arts Village. One of the women who lives there, Judy Gail Krasnow, gives guided tours of the historic prison.

She says lots of tourists asked about a gift shop, which didn’t exist. So she created one in the Art 634 building across from the old prison, and built it to look like an old prison cell. Krasnow says the Old Prison Gift Shop was "modeled after the cells at the first prison, which had brick walls, and the doors were those thick, iron bars."

Krasnow plans to sell art made by current and former prisoners through the University of Michigan's Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP).

Detroit Institute of Arts
Photo courtesy of the DIA

The Detroit Institute of Arts wanted to ask Macomb County residents to pay a tax to help bring in much-needed cash for the museum, which has already cut 20 percent of its staff and reduced its budget.

But county commissioners killed the idea.

Wayne County Commissioners last month voted to create an arts authority to look at getting a DIA millage proposal in front of voters.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The graduation rate for the high school class of 2011 remained relatively steady compared to the previous year, despite new science and math requirements students had to pass in order to graduate.

Wendy Zdeb-Roper is executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. She says most educators had "a certain degree of trepidation" when the requirements were introduced because they were concerned about graduation rates and how students would fare.

According to the Center for Educational Performance and Information, the average graduation rate drop by only a little more two percent – from 76 percent in 2010 to 74 percent in 2011, which is statistically insignificant:

"That number is pretty minimal compared to the Armageddon that was predicted," says Zdeb-Roper.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts laid out his latest plan for how to turn the cash-strapped district around and help students improve.

Here are the three main components of the turnaround:

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Dexter residents are still dealing with the aftermath of the tornado that through their town earlier this month. To help with the healing process, one woman has set up an outdoor art studio for kids in one of the hardest hit neighborhoods.

Christine Lux's makeshift studio consists of some tables, a tent, and a giant blue tarp to protect the children’s art work and art supplies.

There’s a new public transit option for those who want to travel between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport.

It's called AirRide, and it hits the road Monday.

The AirRide bus is not your average mass transit ride. For starters, there’s wi-fi, outlets for your laptop, and a bathroom. Apparently the seats are comfortable, too. So comfy that Ann Arbor Transportation Authority's David Nacht describes them as "more comfortable than three out of the four chairs" in his living room.

Photo from petridish.org

Two Northern Michigan scientists are turning to the public for funding help.

Michigan Tech researcher Rolf Peterson studies the wolf population on Isle Royale National Park. Peterson says the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, has helped fund the bulk of the research on the island for the past several decades.

Photo courtesy of Abby Rose Photo

Happy 50th, Ann Arbor Film Festival!

On today's Artpod, we hear from the festival's director, Donald Harrison. We also catch up with two longtime fans of the festival - one: an audience member, the other: a filmmaker - to hear some of their favorite film fest memories.

Festival-goer: "Every year I find at least two or three films that are just amazing."

John Johnson has been going to the Ann Arbor Film Festival since the late 1960s, and considers himself a big fan of the event.

He's such a big fan that when a film he likes doesn't win an award at the festival, he sends the filmmaker a "a few dollars myself and tell them what a great film it was."  He says he's probably done that about four times, three of which have resulted in a letter back from the filmmaker and a DVD copy of the film.

One of his favorite memories was when he saw Claude LeLouch's "Rendezvous" at the 1976 film festival. He says the film "totally blew my mind," left him with goose bumps.

Johnson says every year he finds "at least two or three films that are just amazing, from my point of view." He says it's worth sitting in the theatre for hours to get to the films "that are just amazing that you would have nowhere else to see."

user mconnors / morgueFile

The experimental Ann Arbor Film Festival kicks off its 50th season Tuesday, March 27.

More than 5,000 films have been screened at the festival over the past five decades. The festival has gone through its ups and downs during that time, too, including cuts to state funding and a high-profile censorship controversy several years ago.

Donald Harrison, the festival’s executive director, says more than 230 films will be shown this time around, many by obscure filmmakers.

"We really encourage people just to have that open mind, that sense of discovery," says Harrison. "We guarantee that people will see things that really affect them in a rewarding way, and of course they’ll see things that maybe they don’t care as much about, but that’s probably someone else’s favorite film in the festival."

We caught up with two longtime fans of the festival - an audience member, and a filmmaker – to hear some of their favorite film fest memories.

Dani Davis

The University of Michigan is leading an effort to get the arts to play a bigger role at research universities.

Reading, writing, and "making" are the skills Theresa Reid wants to see emphasized in higher education.

Photo courtesy of the Broad Art Museum

The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University will not open April 21st as scheduled due to construction problems. Instead, the contemporary art museum will open sometime this fall.

But for those who just can’t wait to see what the inside of the Zaha Hadid-designed museum looks like, the folks at the Broad have created a “virtual” museum that anyone from anywhere in the world can access:

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The cleanup effort is well underway after last week’s tornado in Dexter.

Steve Feinman, a trustee for Dexter Township, says volunteers have been incredibly helpful, and the township has hired a contractor to help with the cleanup.

Rather than wait to see if the state will send disaster relief funds, the township has gone ahead and allocated $200,000 from its own budget to help residents "remove trees and branches and shrub material that was damaged." Fineman says residents can bring those materials to the edge of the roadside for pickup. 

"You can’t wait for a state declaration to make sure your main thoroughfares are open, or people can get out of their houses and have their utilities back, so it’s a necessary thing," explains Fineman.

Manuel Harlan / Royal Shakespeare Company

Members of the Royal Shakespeare Company are back in Ann Arbor, but they won’t be performing any of the classics while they’re in town.

The RSC is doing a “creative residency” at U of M this month, which means they'll focus on the development of two new plays - "Boris Godunov,” and “The Orphan of Zhao."

U of M English Professor Ralph Williams says the residency allows students to get an insight into the creative process, and a sense of what he calls “possible excellence." Here's how he describes it:

Zoe Clark / Michigan Radio

Update 9:30 a.m.

The Associated Press reports more than 100 homes were severely damaged and 13 homes were destroyed in last night's F3 tornado in Dexter.

It appears people were warned in time.  Miraculously, there have been no reports of serious injuries or deaths.

From the Associated Press:

Initial estimates indicate the tornado that hit Dexter, northwest of Ann Arbor, Thursday evening was packing winds of around 135 mph, National Weather Service meteorologist Steven Freitag said Friday. He said it was on the ground for about a half hour and plowed a path about 10 miles long.

Dexter firefighter Dave Wisley told the Dexter Leader there are multiple gas leaks reported, but no fires have been reported.

The Red Cross reports officials are assessing affected neighborhoods this morning. 

Two shelters have been set up in the wake of last night's storms to provide health services, mental health services, food, water and basic needs.

  1. For those affected by the tornado in Dexter the shelter is at the Mill Creek Middle School in Dexter. The school is located at 7305 Dexter-Ann Arbor Rd.
  2. For those affected by flooding at the Park Place Apartments in Ann Arbor a second shelter in Ann Arbor has been set up. This shelter is at the Salvation Army at 100 Arbana Drive in Ann Arbor.

AnnArbor.com reports on power outages in Dexter:

An estimated 4,000 homes were without power this morning in Washtenaw County, most of them in the Dexter area.

Paul Ganz, regional manager for DTE Energy, said it was an "all-out call-out.''

"Dexter is a priority today,'' he said.

10:39 p.m.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra traveled to the Huron Farms neighborhood, where dozens of houses were damaged by the tornado: roofs torn off, siding blown into the street, whole walls missing.

Some houses were completely destroyed, reduced to nothing more than a heaping pile of wood.

Monica Waidley and her family were among the lucky ones. She says the tornado didn’t touch their house:

"We were in the basement watching things fly through the air out of our backdoor; peoples’ lives landing in our backyards, it was really scary."

The Waidleys were visiting their friend, Vicki Shieck, who also lives in the neighborhood. Shieck says she was "down in the basement, doing the tornado tuck" when the tornado hit. Her house was spared, with just a little bit of window and roof damage.

Shieck says the tornado "literally went kitty corner" between her and her neighbors' house, before it careened up the path and destroyed nearby houses.

Residents were seen leaving the neighborhood with suitcases, some carrying whatever valuables they could.

There have been no reports that anyone was injured or killed.

9:15 p.m.

A powerful tornado touched down in Dexter, Michigan at 5:33 p.m. Thursday evening.

The tornado demolished homes and damaged many others, uprooting trees and power lines.

It appears that no one was seriously injured or killed.

There were also reports of funnel clouds in Northfield Township and Saline, but trained spotters did not report any actual tornados.

Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark traveled to the scene and reported seeing homes with roofs and exterior walls stripped off. 

The Detroit Free Press reports that at least 50 homes are damaged:

...with roofs torn off, walls missing and interior rooms now exposed in Dexter. Debris litters the neighborhood. Insulation from houses float in large puddles in the streets and yard.

AnnArbor.com reports the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department says so far, no deaths or serious injuries have been reported:

Police and rescuers are searching door to door to confirm that, spokesman Derrick Jackson said in an e-mailed message.

A shelter has been set up at Mill Creek School and people who need shelter can go there, he said. People who have power were advised to stay in their homes.

Shawn Allee / The Environment Report

Update 5:02 p.m.

Rick Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the University of Michigan, responded to concerns raised by an environmental group about Dow Chemical’s $10 million gift to the university.

The Ecology Center wants the university to release more details about the agreement between Dow and the U of M. In a press release, The Ecology Center’s Tracy Easthope urged the University “to make public the details of this gift, including whether the gift comes with strings attached.”

Fitzgerald said the University of Michigan has lots of partnerships with corporate funded research and other corporate philanthropy and has a “long track record of working very effectively with corporate partners in research projects.”

“We never turn over control of any research opportunities to the donors,” said Fitzgerald. “The program itself is directed by Don Scavia, the special counsel to the U of M President for Sustainability… and the program will continue to be directed by him and by the University of Michigan, and certainly when it comes to any curriculum development, that remains solely the responsibility of the U of M faculty and staff.”

Fitzgerald said there would be “a loaned employee from Dow” who would serve as a link between the U of M program and Dow Chemical, and who would provide some other program support.

Fitzgerald said if people are interested in the details, they are available upon request from the U of M’s public affairs department, the U of M’s Freedom of Information Office, or through Don Scavia’s office. Michigan Radio has requested a copy of the agreement.

“I think this is an exciting program,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s a great example of corporate philanthropy at the University of Michigan and we think it will be managed well and effectively to the benefit of society.”

2:12 p.m.

Environmental health director at the Ecology Center Tracy Easthope is calling on the University of Michigan to release the details behind Dow Chemical's gift to the university

It was announced yesterday that Dow will give U of M $10 million to establish a sustainability fellowship program.

The program will support the work of around 300 masters, doctoral, and post-doctoral students for a period of six years. From the University of Michigan:

Fellows will develop knowledge and seek breakthroughs across myriad components of the sustainability challenge, including human behavior, energy, water, mobility, climate change, built environment, land use, and global health.

In a statement, Easthope said, “while a major gift to further sustainability education is laudable, it is important to assure the complete independence of the University... We urge the University to make public the details of this gift, including whether the gift comes with strings attached.”

The group cites a University of California at Berkeley case as cause for concern. They say, after a giving a gift to U.C. Berkeley, a Dow Chemical employee was hired into a position where he teaches students - raising questions of academic independence.

From the Ecology Center's press release:

Dow Chemical is a global leader in manufacturing chemicals, some of which have problematic health and environmental attributes. Dow’s advocacy to continue production of these problematic chemicals suggests the company’s definition of sustainability is not in agreement with the mainstream.

“Dow is responsible for one of the largest contamination sites in Michigan, stretching more than 50 miles to Saginaw Bay and into Lake Huron,” said Rita Chapman, clean-water program director at the Sierra Club. “Until recently, they have delayed cleanup action, which has put people’s health at risk.”

Michele Hurd of the Lone Tree Council has been closely involved in the fight to get Dow Chemical to clean up its dioxin contamination in Michigan. In the release, she says "Dow has not earned a major voice in sustainability education."

A phone call was made to the University of Michigan for comment.

U of M GEO

The issue of whether University of Michigan graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) can unionize has been put to rest. Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill today saying U of M research assistants are not employees and therefore do not have the right to unionize.

The bill was introduced to the legislature by Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville.

Photo from TLC's website

The groundbreaking reality show "All-American Muslim" has been canceled.

The show, which followed five Muslims families in Dearborn, will not be picked up for a second season, a TLC executive confirmed.

"I’m certainly sad to hear the show wasn’t being renewed," says Suehalia Amen, one of the women featured on the reality show.

She says "All-American Muslim" sought to humanize Muslims in a way mainstream media hadn’t done before…and it made viewers look at Muslims and Arab-Americans in a new light:

"It’s been an eye-opening experience," explains Amen. "To have people tell you 'I hated Muslims, and after your show I’m able to understand your community and have a new-found respect.'"

The show’s creator, Mike Mosallam, agrees. He says the show's ratings dropped throughout the season, but he says that doesn’t mean the show didn’t succeed on a cultural level in terms of "what it taught people and what it dispelled in terms of people’s perceptions. I mean those are things that no ratings will ever be able to show."

Brian Short / Michigan Radio

Urban neighborhood libraries are on the decline.

Detroit, Flint, Dearborn and other cities have recently had to close some of their library branches in order to save money, which means access to free computers and computer training is becoming more limited.

On today's Artpod, we'll visit a group that's working to close the digital divide.

Brian Short / Michigan Radio

Urban neighborhood libraries are on the decline.

Detroit, Flint, Dearborn and other cities have recently had to close some of their library branches in order to save money, which means access to free computers and computer training is becoming more limited.

But in Detroit, there’s a group working to close the digital divide.

Discothèque vs. Discotech

This story takes place at a "discotech."

Not the kind of discotheque where you flaunt your best dance moves in platform shoes, but the kind of discotech where Google, Twitter and Facebook are center stage.

Here, discotech stands for DISCOvering TECHnology.

It's a traveling technology workshop that looks a lot like a pop-up science fair, with laptops, poster boards, wires and circuits all around the room.

Diana Nucera, one of the Discotech organizers, says the event is about "showing the possibility of technology to make our personal connections stronger."

user mconnors / morgueFile

Michigan’s Department of Human Services has introduced a more streamlined process for reporting child and elder abuse in the state.

It’s one of a series of child welfare improvements the state agreed to make when it settled a lawsuit with New York-based Children’s Rights group in 2008.

The agreement required DHS to create a statewide, 24-hour hotline that anyone in Michigan can call to report possible child or elder abuse.

user: camrynb / morgueFile

Michigan State University is taking the zombie movie craze one step farther with a class that asks: What would you do if zombies actually attacked?

MSU's seven-week, online summer class looks at how people behave in times of catastrophe...real or otherwise.

Photo courtesy of Lansing Art Gallery

An art gallery in Lansing lets patrons lease original works of art, much like you would a car or a truck.

For nearly five decades, the Lansing Art Gallery has let folks lease select pieces of art from their gallery. Now with the gallery's new Lease/Purchase Exhibit people can lease any of the 43 original pieces of art on display for about ten percent of the sticker price:

Photo courtesy of KidRock.com

An unlikely musical guest will headline a one-night-only concert in May to benefit the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Michigan musician and rapper Kid Rock will headline the fundraising concert. The goal is to raise $1 million for the DSO; the orchestra faces a deficit of more than a $2 million this year.

Kid Rock will share the stage with his own Twisted Brown Trucker band and the DSO. They’ll play orchestral arrangements of some of Kid Rock’s hits, with DSO music director Leonard Slatkin conducting.

Eastern Michigan University students who want to immerse themselves in Jewish history and culture will now be able to get credit for it; the school now offers a minor in Jewish Studies.

Marty Shichtman is director of Jewish Studies at EMU. He says classes will range from the history of Judaism to the Holocaust to the state of Israel and the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Photo courtesy of UM GEO

The University of Michigan Regents voted today to oppose a Senate bill that would prohibit certain U of M graduate students from joining a union.

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