During my 30 years of teaching, people have often asked, “What can I do to help the Milwaukee Public Schools?”
My first response is to encourage them to visit a school. To witness the joys and challenges of teaching today’s students. To begin to understand the complex issues that teachers face every day, and to see first-hand that many stereotypes about our schools and students are just that—stereotypes.
In order to bolster the community’s involvement in MPS, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association has launched the MPS Children’s Campaign. The effort provides a way for individuals to become involved and to build community support to protect and enrich MPS.
The long-term goal is to develop a children’s agenda that ensures that our public schools, especially those in our most economically depressed and racially segregated areas, serve the needs of all children.
I began working in MPS in 1977. At my first elementary school, there were full-time art, music and physical education teachers, along with a librarian and math and reading specialists. Today, librarians and art, music and gym teachers are endangered species. Class sizes have mushroomed.
As jobs have left Milwaukee, poverty has skyrocketed. Almost 84 percent of MPS students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. This is more than twice the state average. The miracle of MPS is that, despite the odds, amazing things happen every day in its classrooms, which is a tribute to educators, students and families.
However, a quality education system has to be based on more than miracles. The children of Milwaukee deserve strong and sustained community support. They deserve the educational resources and enrichment that are the norm in affluent suburbs.
MPS is the largest school district in the state. It is the only educational institution in Milwaukee that has the capacity, commitment, and legal obligation to serve the needs of all the city’s children.
The future of the metropolitan region is tied to the success of MPS and its students. It’s long past time for all community leaders to help solve the complicated problems confronting MPS. I am tired of exaggerated criticisms from people who have not stepped foot in an MPS school in years.
The MPS Children’s Week, which began on Sunday, is the first initiative of the MPS Children’s Campaign. Milwaukee educators, organized by the union, volunteered at churches on the north and south side to tutor students from 14 MPS high schools for the ACT test that all MPS 11th graders will take on Tuesday, April 24.
Other activities span a range of issues, from literacy, health and arts programs to career and college readiness. On Monday, MPS educators worked with the Milwaukee Public Library and the Next Door Foundation on a “Books in Kids’ Hands” literacy initiative. On Thursday, activities will focus on health and wellness, and the Wisconsin Vision eyeglass company will provide free screening, exams and eyeglasses for students at Vieau School. The list of activities and organizations involved goes on, including food co-ops, bicycle collectives, faith-based organizations, Growing Power, and prominent business groups such as the Milwaukee Water Council and the Greater Milwaukee Committee. (For more information, visit www.mtea.org.)
The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association is committed to working with all those who believe in equal opportunity and quality public schools. We ask you to join the MPS Children’s Campaign, whether this week or in the coming months.
It’s easy to be cynical about the prospect for change, but in my more than 30 years of teaching, I have found that commitment, caring and the refusal to give up are far more important values to teach our children.
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This article first appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in the April 24, 2012 print edition.
For daily updates and background information on the MTEA-initiated MPS Children's Week go to http://mpschildrenscampaign.org/