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.

 

Ways To Connect

Eva Petoskey

State of Opportunity's Jennifer Guerra talks to members of two Michigan tribes about the incredibly high rate of suicide among young American Indians. It's a devastating issue some say is fed by a community level sense of hopelessness and "code of silence."

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

Jennifer Guerra from the State of Opportunity team checks in with members of two Michigan tribes about some of the issues faced by the young people in their community.

Jennifer Guerra from the State of Opportunity team checks in with members of two Michigan tribes about some of the issues faced by the young people in their community.

Wrapping up a lot of coverage from State of Opportunity on foster care is a story about adoption from that system. It can be a bumpy road for families and kids, and if an adoption doesn't work out it can be a tragedy for a child. But now more than ever there are people and programs out there to help families make those adoptions truly permanent.

This summer the news was full of the stories of children who fled to the U.S. because of violence in Central and South America. Here is one of those stories, 7 years later. From Dustin Dwyer and State of Opportunity.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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."

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.

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.

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.

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

 

Michigan Supreme Court
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.

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.

Jennifer Guerra visits a Catholic High School using an apprenticeship model to give their students a competitive advantage.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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. 

Funnels.
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.

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.

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.
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.

 

  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. 

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."

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