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

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.

Read more
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
Education
11:32 am
Mon November 11, 2013

A 'funnel district' forms in Ferndale as students exercise school choice

Funnels.
Credit dorena-wm / flickr

Every school day hundreds of kids from Detroit travel up Woodward and many other routes on their way to Ferndale’s schools. They don't need to move to go to these schools.

Ferndale has wooed Detroit students, exercising their ability to educate students from other districts under Michigan’s "schools of choice" policy.

The district has two high schools that cater almost exclusively to students from Detroit.

One of them, University High, has 426 students only seven of whom come from Ferndale.  

The school system has been called a "funnel district" because of traffic in and out of the district. Kids coming in from Detroit and some suburbs like Oak Park and Hazel Park make up one end of the funnel.

The other end of the funnel is made up of kids leaving Ferndale for suburbs a little farther out. 

You can learn more about how this got started and the financial and educational consequences of it on our State of Opportunity page.

This story is the first in our week-long series looking at how the neighborhood school and education in metro Detroit has changed over the past few decades.

Law
3:20 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

Court asks if DHS keeps kids in foster care safe

The state was back in court today so a federal judge could make sure the Department of Human Services is complying with a consent agreement having to do with Michigan's child welfare system. The agreement rose out of a 2008 lawsuit filed by the advocacy group Children's Rights over the number of children being abused or neglected while in foster care.  In court, the judge relies in part on a report of how DHS is doing written by independent monitors.

Read more
Education
10:45 am
Wed September 25, 2013

Schools working to implement Common Core despite political controversy

Frankie Rau and Emily Riley can tell you all about their own school's educational philosophy, but don't know much about the common core. Their school has has little trouble implementing the standards thus far.
Credit Sarah Alvarez

As early as today state lawmakers may revisit the Common Core State Standards. In the spring, Michigan’s Board of Education adopted the standards, but until now the legislature, concerned primarily, although not exclusively about local control, made it impossible for the state to spend any money implementing the Common Core.

Schools all over Michigan have already begun implementing the standards, and state funds for implementation are unlikely to help struggling districts buy the materials they need to align their curriculums and prepare students to be tested on the Common Core.

State of Opportunity has the full story of two rural schools implementing the Common Core and having different experiences with the new standards.

 

Health
10:14 am
Wed August 28, 2013

Health insurance lags among state's teens

A teen in the Turn the Corner fitness program and an instructor at The Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti. The Corner works to deliver preventative health services to adolescents and tries to sign them up for government sponsored insurance.

  Teenagers in Michigan eligible for no-cost government sponsored health insurance like Medicaid and MIchild aren't getting signed up. 

That means they're walking around uninsured. Many aren't getting regular preventative care and many are relying on the Emergency Room if something comes up. This pattern can have a huge detrimental impact on a families finances, and a teens health. 

Read more
Education
2:50 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

From the school spirit files: Staff and students at alternative school say stigma is undeserved

Alternative high schools often carry a bit of a stigma.

Wavecrest Career Academy in Holland is no different.

Shelby Danielson is a senior at the school. "People think it's a bad school and it's really not," she says.

"There are so many great kids and they have so much potential, they just need that extra push from teachers and they might not get that at other schools."

Read more
Politics & Government
4:00 pm
Fri July 26, 2013

What do Detroit's pensioners think about city's bankruptcy?

Credit Bernt Rostad / creative commons

Detroit’s bankruptcy could impact many people’s daily lives, perhaps the city’s retirees most of all. At a banquet hall in Livonia this week the Detroit Retired City Employees Association held its annual luncheon. Over one thousand people attended. Many of them worry they may lose part or all of their pensions in the bankruptcy. 

Hear the worries, frustrations, and thoughts of retirees with close to 200 years of city service between them in their own voices below.  


July 4th Profiles
8:15 am
Thu July 4, 2013

Searching for a cure to cancer a part of the American Dream for Yemeni-American

Najy works in his lab at Wayne State University
Sarah Alvarez

In honor of July 4th, we asked immigrants across Michigan what America means to them. Abdo Najy shared his story.

Interview with Abdo Najy

Abdo Najy has just recently completed his PhD and hopes to run his own lab soon. He's friendly, smiles a lot, and is animated when he talks about his research on breast and prostate cancer. 

Najy is modest and measured, but he knows he has a role in the search for a cure to cancer. He views his work as a scientist as his way to repay this country for educational opportunities he would not have had in his native Yemen. 

Born in Yemen in the 1980’s in the midst of a polio outbreak, Najy contracted the disease when he was just six months old.

Read more
Education
1:42 pm
Wed June 5, 2013

Need some inspiration? Listen to these high schoolers

Ashley Parker, a graduating senior at J.W. Sexton High School.

State of Opportunity has a new storytelling booth that can easily go places and record lots of personal stories in one fell swoop. 

For its first trip I took the booth to J.W. Sexton High School in downtown Lansing. I wanted to catch the graduating class a few weeks before their big day.

There are stories of seeking asylum in America, learning how to control anger, what it feels like the moment a college acceptance letter comes in the mail, and wanting a second chance.

Read more
Education
12:51 am
Wed May 15, 2013

Buena Vista schools approve plan, await state action

Buena Vista Superintendent Deborah Hunter-Harvill and School Board President Randy Jackson at Tuesday night's tension-filled emergency meeting.
Sarah Alvarez Michigan Radio

The Buena Vista School District unceremoniously shut down ten days ago, sending staff and students home for the year after the district ran out of money.

At Tuesday night’s emergency school board meeting there was almost universal confusion about what happens next. 

The school board unanimously approved a deficit elimination plan they hope will allow state aid payments to start up again so students can get back in the classroom. 

If that doesn't work, the board grudgingly approved a plan for a summer "skills building camp," in lieu of traditional classroom time.

Nobody at the meeting seemed very happy about that option.

Read more

Pages