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.  

Ways To Connect

user Frank Juarez / flickr

We've talked about it before, but it's worth repeating: There is a major gap in the way we discipline children in schools.

This New York Times piece highlights not only the race gap but the gender gap as well, citing federal data that shows "black girls in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide were suspended at a rate of 12 percent, compared with a rate of just 2 percent for white girls, and more than girls of any other race or ethnicity" from 2011 to 2012.

Oh but it doesn't end there. Keep reading.

We've talked about it before, but it's worth repeating: there is a major gap in the way we discipline children in schools. This New York Times piece highlights not only the race gap but the gender gap as well, citing federal data that shows "black girls in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide were suspended at a rate of 12 percent, compared with a rate of just 2 percent for white girls, and more than girls of any other race or ethnicity" from 2011 to 2012.

user Jonas John / flickr

This time next week, most college students will be wrapping up their final exams and getting ready for winter break. They’ll pack up their bags and head home for the holidays. 

It’s probably safe to assume that a lot of people don’t start planning for the holidays until November.  But Joi Rencher isn’t like most people. She works at Eastern Michigan University, and she starts talking about the holidays with her students as soon as they arrive on campus in the fall.

user Valery Kenski / flickr

Last year, my colleague Dustin Dwyer did a story about How to Talk to Kids About Race. It's a great piece, and one that's particularly relevant today given this and this and this.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

More than 95,000 children in Michigan are considered "English language learners." It’s up to schools to get those students to learn English as quickly as possible, and most Michigan districts accomplish that by immersing students in English-only classrooms. 

Eva Petoskey

Suicide is a major public health problem for American Indians. The suicide rate for American Indian teenagers in particular is 2.5 times higher than the national average. I took a trip over the summer to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians Reservation in Suttons Bay to talk with folks in the community about the issue.

When I visited the reservation, it was rainy, no sun in sight, but that didn't stop a couple thousand people from making the trek to the reservation for the annual powwow. The Anishinaabe word is "Jiingtamok." 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The goal for children in foster care is to find them permanent homes. If they can’t live with their birth parents, the next best thing might be adoption. But the road to adoption can be bumpy, and for some children their dreams of a permanent family are dashed before the papers are even signed. 

"I refuse to sink"

Nineteen year old Candice Sponaas is a blonde tomboy with a 1000-watt smile. 

Like a lot of teenagers, Sponaas is really into tattoos. She designed the one on her forearm. It’s a big, floral infinity symbol with an anchor on one end and a rose on the other. In between are the words “I refuse to sink.” As she starts to talk about her broken adoption, I notice her glance down at the tattoo on her arm. It seems to give her strength just looking at it. 

Sponaas moved in with her soon-to-be adoptive family just before she turned 18.  They planned to adopt her in a year or two. But ten months in, things were not going well – especially between Sponaas and the mom of the house. So Sponaas moved out.

"And then we just stopped talking," says Sponaas. "And then she said I think it’s better if we just don’t try to force everything here. I wish you nothing but happiness, but that’s all that there is. So, that adoption is never going to happen."

user: Bart Everson / flickr

The type of education a child in Michigan gets depends in large part on where he or she lives. That's because Michigan is under no legal obligation to provide an "equitable" or "adequate" education for all its citizens. The only thing Michigan is legally required to do in terms of schools is provide a "free" education. And we all know that free does not necessarily equal quality. 

Here is what our state constitution says about education: 

Sec. 2. The Legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin. 

So, we've promised our children a free education, but is it equitable and adequate? That's the question we posed in our documentary, The Education Gap. (If you haven't heard it, click on the link and take a listen. You may be surprised at how much of a difference your zip code makes in terms of educational opportunities.)

The equitable and adequate question is also at the heart of a recent lawsuit against the Highland Park school district. As my colleague, Kate Wells, reported last week, the ACLU sued the district and the state of Michigan, saying students were not taught basic literacy skills. Here's an excerpt:

Turns out you can tell a lot about an infant's socioeconomic background based on what he eats. "The tentacles of income inequality find their way into many different aspects of life, and food is a particularly apt example," writes Washington Post reporter Roberto Ferdman. New research shows that babies who eat lots of foods high in sugar and fat come from poorer, less educated households compared to babies whose parents follow suggested infant feeding guidelines. Not only can these high fat/sugar foods impact a child's growth, but research indicates it can also "negatively impact a child's long-term health, eating habits, and food preferences."

Sue Kley

State of Opportunity aired a documentary yesterday on foster care. All this week, we're publishing a series of articles that explore specific aspects of the foster care system, and some of the challenges kids within that system face.

Imagine being removed from your home, from the only place you've really ever known. You're taken away from your parents, your toys, your bed, maybe even your siblings, and told that you have to live here, in this new place with these new people. Imagine what that must feel like.

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