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United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County

Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership

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On May 10th, parents, students, and staff came together at Lincoln Avenue Elementary, one of eight schools in the Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership, to celebrate Mother’s Day.

More than 150 moms and their children enjoyed a warm breakfast, a guest speaker, and the opportunity to meet each other and get to know the teachers and staff that work with their children at the school.

“I’ve heard from parents, students, and staff, as well as the businesses and neighbors around the school that our community is a better place because Lincoln Avenue is situated in this neighborhood,” says Principal Yael Rodriguez.

A collaboration between United Way and Milwaukee Public Schools, the Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership began in 2015 as a strategy to transform schools into a place where students, families, staff, and the surrounding community can work together to ensure every student is successful.

“Community Schools are a natural fit for United Way because it allows us to do what we do best: connect people to the resources they need to thrive,” says Nicole Angresano, Vice President of Community Impact at United Way.

United Way employs a full-time Community School Coordinator in each community school. This person is dedicated to building relationships in the neighborhood and turning the school into a community hub.

“One of the roles of a Community School Coordinator is to bring in partnership and resources to a school building,” says Ryan Hurley, Director of the Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership. “The Mother’s Day event at Lincoln Avenue is a perfect example of turning the school into a safe space where community members can come together to enjoy time with students, meet school staff, and build relationships with one another.”

Recognizing that most teachers and administrators already have a full plate, Samantha Garrett, Community School Coordinator at James Madison Academic Campus, works to increase the capacity of her school to provide as many resources as possible for students and their families: “I spend a lot of time talking to partners and programs that work in the building, as well as students, engaging everyone in shared leadership to improve the school,” says Samantha.

“It feels like the ideal school experience,” says Elijah Johnson, a student at James Madison Academic Campus. “When I was a freshman I did not enjoy coming to school. Now I feel I’ve gotten the hang of it.”

“It made me want to help more, give more,” says Ahlissia Edwards, another James Madison student. “We are getting the skills we need to help us move forward and create our own path.”

The Community Schools model has been implemented in districts across the country. In Cincinnati, graduation rates have risen from 51% to more than 80% while dramatically reducing the achievement gap between black and white students. This type of change takes time but MPS and United Way are invested in long-term success as more Milwaukee schools become Community Schools.

Students at Hopkins-Lloyd Community School, which serves students in grades K through 8 on Milwaukee’s North side, were participants in the My Very Own Library initiative in both the 2015 and 2016 school years. This partnership between United Way and Scholastic provides children at 14 MPS schools with 10 free books per year to build their home library.

Hopkins-Lloyd Community School Coordinator Glenn Carson is proud of another initiative he helped bring to the school this year. “Hopkins is now a site for the Pick n’ Save Mobile Food Market, which pulls up on our playground once per month to provide fresh groceries at a discounted price to the families in our neighborhood,” says Glenn.

“It brings family and the community together, and that’s what a community school is about,” says Bobby McKnight, father of a student at Hopkins-Lloyd. “It feels more like a family atmosphere than a school. It’s a lovely atmosphere to be in.”

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