Community Schools Initiative helps students achieve

The Sun Prairie Community School Initiative is a partnership and collaboration between individuals and organizations to help students achieve and stay connected with the community. It provides a wide variety of services to students and their families, including after-school sports and other activities in a safe environment with adult supervision.

“Because of these activities, we’re seeing that the kids are more ready for school,” says Mary Ellen Havel-Lang, one of the group’s founding members. “They want to be at school. The attendance numbers have increased. Their progress has increased. We’re getting more parental involvement in the schools.”

One of the Initiative’s programs, Kids Achieve Together, pairs upper middle school and high school kids with elementary school students. Twice a week the older students provide tutoring and physical activities for the younger children.

“These were underachieving students. They met their peers achievement level, with that one-on-one tutoring, in math and they exceeded their peers in reading, because they had a relationship, in a safe environment, that helped them understand and learn those lessons.”

Programs also include mental health services and counseling for alcohol and drug abuse, plus programs aimed not at students, but at their families:

“Financial literacy, computer safety … our non-English speaking parents with help learning enough English to deal with the schools.”

Havel-Lang says the initiative is modeled on similar programs in other communities, and the grassroots organization currently receives no public funding. It was launched in 2010 over concern about the lack of activities for youth in the community, particularly in low-income areas. As a result, meals and nutrition play an important part in the group’s programs.

“We’re in a very actively growing community, and we have seen the increase in poverty in our community,” Havel-Lang says. “Having good nutrition and having food is a critical part of learning. Being hungry is not the situation you want to be in if you want to learn.”

Listen to interview with Mary Ellen Havel-Lang:

Read more:

Community Schools | Sun Prairie, WI – Official Website

Former Teacher of the Year is stepping forward as advocate for public education

LukeLeah Luke of Mauston High School in Central Wisconsin was named a Wisconsin State Teacher of the Year in 2010. Since then she has been an advocate for public schools. In addition to sitting on the executive board of the Wisconsin Rural School Alliance, of which she’s also a former president, she’s now involved in a new grassroots organization of 85 former Teachers of the Year that’s just beginning to advocate for students.

“We’re beginning to find people who were named back in 1985 or 1978 and beginning to open up dialogue about how we can join forces as recognized exemplary teachers in the conversation about public education,” she said in a radio interview.

Wisconsin, like many states, is facing a shortage of teachers. Luke’s organization is also working to support teaching as a profession. They want to maintain high standards for Wisconsin teachers while promoting it as a career for future graduates.

“The teaching profession in general has taken such a bashing in recent years…it has become a profession that is less valued and has entered into the political arena to such a degree that recent graduates from high school are not choosing to enter the education profession because of that swirl of negativity that’s surrounding the profession and public education in general, and we’re hoping to encourage the best candidates to enter into the profession.”

Luke attended the Wisconsin Public Education Network’s Wisconsin Education Summit in August as an outside observer, hoping to learn from the experiences of the other grassroots organizations involved.

“So many policies have been introduced that are maybe not research-based or aren’t really in the best interest of students, it becomes more about big money and outside interest groups rather than what’s best for kids.”

That’s why, Luke said, she is focused on working with others at the grassroots level to advocate for public education, “sharing what’s working for them locally… (putting) the positive spin on things.”