Jennifer Guerra

Reporter/Producer

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. 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.  

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Opinion
9:37 am
Thu July 17, 2014

Some thoughts on race and speech from Michigan Radio's Jennifer White

We've recently dedicated a fair amount of time on State of Opportunity talking about voices and bias and code switching, so I thought it'd be cool to check in with Jenn White about what it's like to be one of the few minority voices on public radio. Below are a couple excerpts from our chat.

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Education
7:00 am
Wed July 16, 2014

Teaching students how to switch between Black English and Standard English can help them get ahead

Credit user: frankjuarez / flickr

Last week we did a story about whether people judge others based on how they speak. (Spoiler alert: Yep, they do.) One African-American high school student we spoke to said he hated how often teachers corrected him when he spoke. "Every time you try to say something they gotta correct every line you say. It's like ... I don't want to talk to you now."

University of Michigan education professor Holly Craig says that type of "correctional" teaching style is a sure-fire way to turn African American students off from education, and the results play out time and again in standardized test scores for African-American students. 

Across the country, black students consistently lag behind their white peers on standardized tests. Experts have been trying to come up with ways to shrink the achievement gap for decades, but it’s still there. Craig and a team of researchers thinks teaching kids how to code switch at an early age can go a long way reducing the gap. 

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Education
7:00 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Do we judge people on the way they speak?

Credit user dbphotography / flickr

It’s not hard to find an example of people being judged because of the way they speak.

Take the George Zimmerman trial. The primary witness for the prosecution was a young African American woman named Rachel Jeantel. She was Trayvon Martin’s friend and was on the phone with him the day he died. You can listen to some of her testimony here.

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Families & Community
7:00 am
Wed July 2, 2014

When you live in poverty, a lot can get in the way of graduating

Keisha Johnson (left) graduated from a 15-week computer tech training program, something she's been aiming for since 2012.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Let's face it, a lot of people take graduation for granted. It's just one of the many steps on the path to a career. But for some, it’s not that easy. I've been following one young mom for the last couple years as she tried – and failed – to complete a jobs training program. But as you're about to read, the young mom finally did it.

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Education
10:43 am
Mon June 23, 2014

Detroit Free Press investigation looks at the state of Michigan's charter schools

Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

What I'm about to share with you is MUST-READ material. It's a multi-part series on charter schools from the folks at the Detroit Free Press. To quote my colleague, Jack Lessenberry, "These are stories that everyone in this state who has kids, knows kids, or has any interest in our future should read."

Free Press reporters spent a year investigating Michigan's charter schools and are rolling out their findings all this week. According to the Freep, more than 140,000 Michigan children are enrolled in charter schools and, based on the data, we are failing most of these kids. That's because, in part, the state has some of the weakest laws regulating charters, so schools stay open long after they've proven they just can't get the job done in terms of improving student achievement.

In a nutshell, here's what the Freep's investigation turned up:

Wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records. No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them.

The Detroit Free Press investigative series, State of Charter Schools, runs all this week. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Families & Community
5:37 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

U of M's long-running economic mobility survey to add new generation of kids to the mix

Credit user: jdurham / morgueFILE

We're data geeks here at State of Opportunity. And there's a treasure trove of data (and more to come!) housed at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. The Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) has been around since 1968 and is the longest-running household panel survey in the world. We're talking tens of thousands of data points from more than 70,000 individuals over more than four decades. 

Researchers have mined PSID data for all kinds of economic mobility studies. My colleague Dustin Dwyer blogged about it back in 2012 before he went to a U of M conference where social scientists presented their findings using PSID data across three generations: 

I've already had a chance to look at some of the papers that will be presented, and there are some tantalizing findings. Jean Yeung of the National University of Singapore and two co-authors from New York University looked at the black-white achievement gap across three generations. They found evidence that discrimination in the grandparent's generation had an impact on children's outcomes decades later.

Other papers look at the effects of extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins – to see how they affect economic mobility in other countries.  

And now there's a new generation to add to the mix. All of the children in the original cohort will have reached adulthood by this year, so PSID researchers will collect information on this new generation of kids ages 0 to 17. 

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Education
8:00 am
Thu June 12, 2014

Meet an elementary school principal who's part "caretaker, nurturer, manager, teacher, and preacher"

Principal Diedre Zockheem greets students at Myers Elementary in Taylor.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

There are principals and then there's Diedre Zockheem. 

As a journalist I know I'm supposed to be impartial, but I've gotta say that Diedre Zockheem really is one of a kind. She's the principal at Myers Elementary, the low-income school featured in our State of Opportunity documentary The Education Gap

Zockheem has been principal at Myers for eight years. She’s just about the most stable thing this school has going for it. There's an incredibly high teacher turnover rate at Myers, and issues of domestic violence, mental illness, and drug abuse plague the families at her school.

I've interviewed Zockheem dozens of times over the last nine months and every time she tells me some story that reminds me a) how tough these kids have it, and b) how dedicated Zockheem is to helping them.

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Education
8:00 am
Wed June 11, 2014

They come and go. It's noisy. But these 5th-graders still picked up some big lessons

The fifth-grade students at Myers Elementary like to play basketball during recess.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

  

Last fall, I spent a ton of time in two different fifth-grade classrooms: one made up of poor kids, the other made up of kids whose families are mostly well-off. I wanted to see how the two classroom experiences differed, and boy did they ever. We're talking night-and-day differences here. 

Don't believe me? Take a listen for yourself

I decided to revisit the poor school to see what – if anything – had changed. 

At the beginning of the school year, the students at Myers Elementary in Taylor struggled with math, reading and discipline issues. Here's what the classroom sounded like back in September:  

  

And here's what the classroom sounded like when I returned to the school in May:

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Education
8:12 am
Sat June 7, 2014

Michigan makes strides to improve dropout rate data

Credit user alamosbasement / Flickr

Our colleague Jake Neher with the Michigan Public Radio Network filed a story today on high school dropout rate data. Turns out Michigan used to be really bad at calculating the dropout rate.

Neher says a 2006 state audit found the Center for Education Performance and Information (CEPI) was "not providing reliable data on high school dropouts." But Neher says CEPI has stepped up its game, thanks in large part to a new system that "tracks students through their school careers." Lawmakers also passed legislation to allow the state to "access school records that are critical for calculating graduation and dropout rates."

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Justice
8:00 am
Wed June 4, 2014

A Detroit diversion program gives teen offenders a second chance at a clean record

In Teen Court, a jury of high school students asks questions of the offender to come up with an appropriate sentence.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

This is a story about second chances.

When a teen commits a crime it goes on their permanent record, which can lead to all kinds of disadvantages down the road. When they go to apply for a job, for example, they’ll have to admit they broke the law. But a diversion program out of Wayne County gives some low-level, first-time offenders a way to admit their guilt and keep their record clean at the same time. 

Let’s meet the defendant

Chloe (not her real name) was with her friend at J.C. Penney. Her friend stole a bunch of stuff while they were there; Chloe stole a $30 bracelet. They both got caught before they could run out of the store.

Since shoplifting is a misdemeanor and because this is Chloe’s first ever run-in with the law, she’s decided to take her case to Teen Court. This particular teen court is affiliated with the Detroit Public School district. But there are dozens of teen courts around the state and more than 1,000 across the country.

In order for teen court to work, the defendant has to admit up front that she broke the law. Then it’s up to a group of high school students – a literal jury of her peers – to come up with an appropriate sentence.

"Hopefully they teach me something and hopefully they learn from my mistakes and stuff" says Chloe. "And I hope I leave there feeling relieved that I finally got to talk about it."

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