Many senior staffers at the Department of Education hit the road last week as part of Secretary Arne Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour. On Thursday, ED’s chief of staff Joanne Weiss, visited Brown Street Academy, a designated Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was lucky enough to accompany Weiss and several members of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships on a tour of this facility. Later we met with educational stakeholders who are deeply invested in Brown Street’s success.
Walking into the school quickly took me back to my own elementary schools days some 35 years ago. Bright sunshine streamed in through the tall windows as the sound of our shoes echoed on the polished wood floors. I peeked in through open classroom doors to see butterflies on bulletin boards, desks in neat rows, and students peeking back out at me. I began to wonder, “What is so special about this school?”
At the conclusion of the tour, we were led to a room where fifteen individuals were eagerly waiting to share the ways they are engaged in improving reading proficiency at Brown Street Academy. Representatives from non-profit and business groups, parent organizations, teachers and others described their contributions to the i3 Milwaukee Community Literacy Project–now located in seven elementary schools. Students identified as struggling readers are assigned to an AmeriCorps tutor. The tutor is trained by and works closely with the site teacher and University of Milwaukee facilitators. Parent liaisons open up and maintain the lines of communications with parents. Business partners and non-profits augment grants with additional funds to keep everything running smoothly.
Weiss seemed impressed by combined efforts and commented, “I challenge you to continue to promote community connections…and scale up and share what you’re doing with other communities.”
Yes, community partners such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and Milwaukee Public Schools are working together to increase reading proficiency, but they are also promoting a sense of ownership in the process. As Tom Devine, Executive Director of Wisconsin AmeriCorps said, “We are interested in the test scores but we are also really interested to see if these kids volunteer at a later date. When we see neighbors helping neighbors, that’s a success story.”
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