Sarah Alvarez

Public Insight Journalist

Sarah is the Public Insight Journalist for the State of Opportunity Project.

Sarah's job is to get readers, listeners and communities participating in reporting. Using a tool called the Public Insight Network she helps turn questions, tips, stories, and insight from the State of Opportunity community and beyond into content online and on the air. She also files legal and policy stories. She was formerly the Public Insight Journalist on the Changing Gears project.

Before her work at Michigan Radio, 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 has a wonderful husband and three wonderful, busy kids and no time for anything else.


12:09 am
Thu August 28, 2014

In a Michigan classroom, immigrants learn about English and acceptance

One of the students presents a local business brochure made in her class for English Language Learners.
Credit University of Michigan

The federal government is still trying to find temporary shelter for the thousands of children who have fled from Central America, often by themselves. Some of them are met by protesters shouting the children are not welcome in this country.

But in Ann Arbor, a summer school program for English Language Learners is trying to give immigrant kids the opposite message; that they are valuable members of the community with something to teach. 

Unfortunately for the kids, they have to go to summer school to get this message. For many kids, possibly these 10 kids included, summer school is the worst. These students, who range in age from 10 to 14 years-old, are stuck inside a classroom at Scarlett Middle School while the sun shines through the windows.

But this summer program is just one of many things these young people willing to do to succeed in school, and in this country. They’re all here because English is not their first language and they want to improve. They all have different goals. Some want to work on spoken language, others are working on writing English, still others on reading it.

All of these students bring different skills and life experiences into the classroom. Some are recent immigrants or refugees, others have been here a while. They are from places as different as Syria, China and Costa Rica. 

Public schools are required to offer educational opportunities for students who don’t speak English as a first language. This summer class is one offering and the school district, in partnership with the University of Michigan, is trying to inspire these young people. Debi Khasnabis helped design this curriculum. She says she’s trying to make summer school better- through being a place where students can find some value in whatever it was that brought them to this class and what also led to them needing to learn English.

Khasnabis wants them to realize that their experience as immigrants means they bring resilience and skills to the table.

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11:55 am
Mon August 25, 2014

Which schools are Michigan's most innovative? You tell us

There has to be some amazing stuff happening in schools around the state.
Credit George Thomas / flickr

Making the social media rounds today is some news that the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends school should start later for teenagers. The AAP says an 8:30 a.m. start time, at least, would be ideal for teenage brains. That's a good hour later than most high schools around the state begin their first classes.

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10:33 pm
Mon August 18, 2014

More questions than answers about the racial imbalance in Michigan's schools

Credit Derek Bridges / flickr

The death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and the resulting chaos in Ferguson, Missouri is an extreme example of the long tail of a racial power imbalance. 

Racial power dynamics between police and the communities they patrol have historically been, and still are, important for communities in Michigan and across the country to address. But, a less explosive version of this racial power imbalance plays out elsewhere every day.

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Families & Community
1:20 pm
Thu August 14, 2014

"Rich Hill" is the most watchable movie I've seen about poverty

One of the subjects of the film, Andrew Jewell.
Credit Andrew Droz Palermo

We don't do a lot of movie reviews at State of Opportunity. In fact, we've only ever done one.

What makes the documentary Rich Hill worth watching is also what makes it rare and worth talking or writing about.

It is raw and not sentimental, but neither is it hopeless. The film won the top documentary prize at Sundance this year.

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Families & Community
11:52 am
Mon August 11, 2014

Charter schools, college sports and juvenile lifers: Here's what to watch for this week

Credit Jeff Stvan / flickr

Let's start with some things you may have missed late last week:

The O'Bannon decision: Otherwise known as the case that could change college sports and higher education forever, this case is all about how much control college athletes should have over moneymaking enterprises that swirl around them.

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4:32 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

MI curious answer: Why don't the courts step in on school funding in Michigan?

Credit Hope for Gorilla / flickr

Kara Gavin wanted to know the answer to this question, "Why does the law allow such persistent disparity in school district funding? Could civil rights laws be used to level the playing field?"

Gavin is getting ready to send her child to elementary school and that has her thinking a lot about school quality for her own family and families all over the state. 

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Families & Community
9:55 am
Fri August 1, 2014

"Flint," a piece by two young poets from, yes, Flint

Yazmen Brown (left) and JaCquell Price, college students and slam poets from Flint.
Credit Sarah Alvarez

At the beginning of our recent special on violence we did something we've never done before. 

Usually we begin those shows with music signaling that what you're about to hear is a State of Opportunity production, and then you hear a familiar voice, usually Jennifer White's.  That changed when we asked Raise It Up!, an award winning arts organization in Flint, if the young artists they work with would like to contribute a poem for the show. 

JaCquell Price and Yazmen Brown wrote a piece we thought was so perfect, we opened the show with it. Price and Brown call this piece "Flint." The words are below but really, there's nothing like hearing it. 

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Families & Community
4:29 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

State of Opportunity special: The effect of violence on kids

Credit Jason Rogers / flickr

We sometimes think of violence as contained in certain communities, but violence is present in the lives of an estimated 60 percent of kids.

The effects of exposure to violence on children's development are profound. Kids in some homes and communities have very high levels of exposure to violence.  

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Families & Community
12:06 am
Wed July 30, 2014

Crime in Flint is down, but violence is still taking a big toll on young people

Officer Jesse Carpenter, left, and staff of the Haskell Youth Center in Flint.
Credit Haskell Center

The Haskell Youth Center is on the front lines of violence prevention in Flint. They don’t use a complicated formula; there are just plenty of positive activities and positive adults.

On any given day there are about 200 kids spread throughout the game room, the cafeteria, and a gym where the basketball games never seem to stop. 

Haskell is a refuge of sorts. Violent crime is pervasive in this city, with almost 800 such crimes reported since the beginning of the year. That’s pretty extreme. But just as true outside of Flint is the effect violence can have on young people.

"It feels like a storm that's always around – that won't go away," says 18-year-old Rico Colfer. He's been coming to Haskell since he was nine years old. He now works at the center when he's not in school, studying for what he hopes will be a career in graphic design. 

Colfer says his house has been broken into three times. He says the stress takes a toll on him and on those around him. "Every time it happens it hurts me because I see my mom cry," he says. "She works hard to get us the best stuff to have, and they just come and take it."

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7:42 am
Tue July 29, 2014

Paul Ryan signals change in tone on poverty. Skeptics raise collective eyebrow.


Paul Ryan is arguably the Republican Party's most amplified voice on poverty. He talks about it often in his role as chairman of the House Budget Committee and spoke famously on Vice Presidential campaign trail.

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