Jennifer Guerra

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station. Before joining 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 (including Clarion, PRNDI and Edward R. Murrow 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 master's degree in broadcast journalism from Fordham University. When she's not on the radio, she and her husband are trying to keep up with their adorable and energetic toddler.

The Michigan Supreme Court this week handed a big win to parents with disabilities in child welfare cases.

If the state removes a child from her home and puts her in foster care, generally the goal is to reunite the child and parent as soon as possible. The parent is given services and a plan with specific goals they have to meet before reunification, and if those goals aren't met, their parental rights can be terminated.

Eight places of worship in Michigan – in metro Detroit and near Kalamazoo – have officially joined a growing number of churches and synagogues across the country that have agreed to house and protect unauthorized immigrants who fear deportation.

The state says 38 schools with persistently low test scores might not have to close by the end of the year. At least, not yet. These schools now have 60 days to come up with a turnaround plan using what the state calls a "partnership" model. We wanted to know a little bit more about what that partnership strategy might entail, so we took a trip to Dearborn to find out. 

Miguel and Angel are brothers and they pretty much disagree on everything: TV shows, music, games, even the way they dress. But that stuff’s all pretty minor compared to the big disagreement they have over where they should go if their mom is deported back to Mexico.

Miguel is 14-years old and a proud mama’s boy. He says he never wants to separate from his mom and will go with her to Mexico even though he’s only visited there once, when he was three.

Big brother Angel, who's 15, says he wants to stay here in the U.S. and finish studying.

You may have heard that the state is planning to close as many as 38 schools by this summer, the bulk of which are in Detroit. That’s a big deal for a whole lot of families, and so far, the state isn’t giving them much guidance about what to do. So let’s walk through where things stand.

Michigan's own Betsy DeVos is now the most powerful education official in the nation. So what does that mean for Michigan? Let's start our story in Detroit, where DeVos played a big role in pushing for more school choice in the district.

It has been a crazy few days for Ryan Griffin, the guy behind the Read-to-a-Barber program we wrote about on the NPR Ed blog last week. He says the phone at The Fuller Cut in Ypsilanti, Mich., has been ringing nonstop since the story ran.

Jozef Jason came to the Fuller Cut barbershop for one reason: the kid's mohawk. It's almost second-grade picture day, and he wants to look good. He hops up onto an antique swivel chair and asks his barber for the new 'do.

"It's high on the top and short on the bottom, and lines that go in a diagonal line where the top is gonna be," explains the 7-year-old.

There's no magical spending threshold for student success. Solutions are also complicated by the fact that children with different needs require different levels of support.

To better understand those needs — and what it will cost to meet them — a state can commission what's called an "adequacy study."

Most states have already done at least one.

Michigan is a late-comer. Its first adequacy study is due out this month.

In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Brimley is the kind of small town where the students of the month in the elementary school get full-page write-ups in the local newspaper.

There's an Indian reservation just up the road, a couple bars, a gas station, a motel and that's about it.

Brimley Elementary serves two groups that often struggle academically. Of the 300 students, more than half are Native American. Many come from low-income families.

Chris Reynolds will never forget his first day at the University of Michigan. He and his dad got up superearly and drove nine and a half hours from Sellersville, a blue-collar factory town in Pennsylvania, to Ann Arbor.

"My father literally just dropped me off and then left," Reynolds says.

His dad couldn't afford a hotel, so they took about an hour to unpack the car, said their goodbyes, and his dad drove off.

Chris Reynolds was officially on his own.

In Peter Maginot's sixth-grade class, the teacher is white, but all of his students are black. They're young and they're honestly concerned that what happened to Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner could happen to them.

"Who can tell me the facts that we know about Mike Brown?" Maginot asks the class at Shabazz Public School Academy, an afro-centric school in Lansing, Mich.

Teaching middle school students about what happened in Ferguson, or talking about choke holds and grand juries – that’s not part of Common Core, and it’s not likely to show up a a standardized test. But some teachers like Peter Maginot are teaching it anyway.

It's final exam week for lots of college students. No doubt they're stressed right now, but once they hand in that last paper or take that last test, they're done for the semester. Pack up the suitcase and head home for the holidays.

But for some college students — many of whom are former foster youth — that's not quite what happens.

"I have no for-certain home, that's the thing," says Trudy Greer, a 22-year-old sophomore at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich. She says she's had a lot of folks at EMU ask her where she lives, curious to know where her home is.

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."

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