WUOMFM

Jennifer Guerra

Reporter/Producer

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV 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 master's in broadcast journalism from Fordham University in New York. When not working on a story, you can find Jen practicing her tap steps and hanging out with her husband and their two hilarious kids.

jennifer@michiganradio.org

Ways to Connect

user Childrens Book Review / flickr

More than 400,000 children are currently in foster care in the U.S. Once a child has entered the system, they remain there on average for nearly two years, according to a federal report. Our State of Opportunity team looked into a unique program that’s working to prevent kids in Michigan from even entering foster care in the first place.

Photo courtesy of Jacquise Purifoy

The latest Kids Count data show that roughly 11,000 teens gave birth in Michigan in 2010. Statistically speaking, teen parents are more likely to drop out of high school, and their children are more likely to wind up in prison. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

user herval / flickr

Our State of Opportunity project focuses on kids and what it will take to get them ahead. At the most basic level, that means ensuring children are healthy. But as Michigan Radio’s Jennifer Guerra reports, nationwide drug shortages could threaten even that most basic task.

We called every neonatal intensive care unit in Michigan, and all but one got back us. Each one has experienced or is experiencing a wide variety of drug shortages in the NICU.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

School is almost out for summer! For some students, that means camp. For others, it means time to get a job. For the three high school sophomores you’re about to meet, it means a break - not just from school, but from riding the bus.

Photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth

Every once and a while, our State of Opportunity team receives a story pitch from someone in the community who's trying to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged youth. This is one of those stories. It’s a piece about boys, girls, and the universal language of music.

Mother and three small kids getting ready for school.
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

As part of our State of Opportunity project, we’re following parents as they struggle to get off public assistance and make a better future for their children. This is an update on one of those families.

I first interviewed Keisha Johnson on a steamy summer day last June. Johnson, 25, grew up poor and is still poor to this day. But she has three reasons she wants to climb out poverty, and their names are Kaleb, Jurnee, and Alan, Jr.

Magnus Manske / wikimedia commons

(Editor's note: This story was originally published in July 2009)

Neal Fisher thinks he’s an environmentally friendly kind of guy. He and his wife recycle, they use compact fluorescent light bulbs in the house, they walk most places and hardly ever use their car.

But when it comes to outdoor grilling... it’s charcoal all the way.

“It may be a little decadent when you’re taking the environment into consideration, but I do it.”

Babies exposed to opioids in the womb may suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, especially in rural areas
User anitapatterson / Morguefile / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A new report shows Michigan has made some progress in improving maternal and infant well-being.

The Michigan League for Human Services' Kids Count in Michigan project found a drop in the percentage of teen births over the past decade. Repeat births to teens and pre-term births have also decreased.

But it’s not all good news. Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Mchigan project director, says the state saw worsening trends over the decade in babies weighing less than 5.5 pounds, or low-birthweight babies.

"One of indicators that is of most concern is the 7 percent increase in low-birthweight, because that is what drives infant mortality particularly in the African American community."

African Americans babies had double the risk of being born too small, compared to white and Hispanic babies.

The report calls for more state investment in programs and policies to improve the well-being of mothers, and provide a stronger safety net for low-income families and their children.

Zehnder-Merrell says these data are not only indicators of how successful the next generation will be, but also "how successful our state will be."

Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson last week debunked the conventional wisdom that Detroit has 40 square miles of vacant land. In her report she found that in all likelihood the number is probably closer to half that.

Which, if you think about it, is still a lot of empty land. 

Which is where the Detroit Works Project comes in -- that's the name of Mayor Dave Bing's revitalization plan for the city. The Detroit Works team has to figure out what to do with all that empty land. To help them find some answers, they're turning to Detroit's residents for help.

They're also enlisting the help of ... a table.

A table, you say?

Yes. But this is no ordinary table, dear reader. The purpose of this particular table is to "disrupt people’s everyday lives," according to Theresa Skora, who helped design it.

"It’s meant to fold up and be put into a car and be taken around," says Skora. Which is why they call it the Roaming Table.  And believe it or not this table – with its nifty green logo and stacks of glossy pamphlets – is key to the city's revitalization plan aka Detroit Works.

Roaming Table

Apr 26, 2012

Changing Gears Reporter Kate Davidson debunked the conventional wisdom that Detroit has 40 square miles of vacant land. In her report she found that in all likelihood the number is probably closer to half that:

DAVIDSON: That includes empty land - 19 square miles – and land with empty houses. No parks.

user mconnors / morgueFile

Washington, Montana and other states are experiencing pertussis outbreaks.

The respiratory disease, also known as whooping cough, is highly contagious. If infants catch it, they often end up in the hospital.

The U.S. Postal Service is paying homage to the world of poetry with ten new commemorative stamps.

Two Michigan poets will be featured on the new Forever stamps: Theodore Roethke, a Saginaw native and Pulitzer Prize winning poet; and Robert Hayden, a Detroit poet, and the first black poet laureate of the United States.

user clarita / morgueFile

Looking for a clean, well-lighted place to lay your head?

A company has plans to develop a slew of Ernest Hemingway-inspired hotels and resorts. The folks behind Hemingway Hotels & Resorts only have a website at this point, but their plan is to build a minimum of 30 hotels worldwide, all based in places that were in some way relevant to the life, times and adventures of Papa Hemingway.

Photo courtesy of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University

What was once a private collection of racist memorabilia has now been expanded to a full-blown museum on the campus of Ferris State University.

When sociology professor David Pilgrim came to Ferris State, he brought with him his collection of racist artifacts and donated them to the university. For years the items sat in a small classroom on campus, but are now on display in the new Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia.

user Bernt Rostad / creative commons

Focus Hope, a well-known social services organization in Detroit, has spent decades providing food, career training and other services to people throughout southeast Michigan.

Now the University of Michigan's Graham Sustainability Institute is kicking in roughly $200,000 to help the nonprofit with its Focus Hope Village Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to transform the 100-block area around the Focus Hope campus, where thousands live at or below the poverty line.

John Callewaert is leading the U of M side of things. He says they’ll be working on six projects ranging from legal issues around vacant land to developing playgrounds to "moving towards college readiness" within the community.

He says the strategies developed could be used as a model for other areas with "lots of open space and economic decline." 

According to Focus Hope, their Village Initiative is based on a successful model being used in New York:

This initiative is inspired by the adage that it "takes a village to raise a child.” Much like the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, the HOPE Village Initiative will bring together whatever resources are necessary to transform our community. Already, parents, businesses, retirees, educators, block clubs and others are working together to create opportunities for our children.

Each of the six projects will receive up to $30,000 over 18 months.

user kconnors / morgueFile

A public school district in Oakland County imposed a ten percent pay cut on its teachers retroactive to the start of the school year.

Now it is likely the teachers will sue the district.

Teachers in the Madison Heights school district have been working without a contract for three years. In that time there’s been lots of bargaining, a fact finding mission, mediation - but to no avail.

user jdurham / morgueFile

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).

For the first time in 15 years, the Detroit Institute of Arts has a staff of three in its contemporary art department.
Detroit Institute of Arts

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.

Wolves on Isle Royale
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.

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