Every other week, Middleton High School students mentor younger students at three Middleton elementary schools.
The members of the Black Student Union club “thought the elementary students needed something because there weren’t many teachers of color… so they know someone looks like them and is looking out for them in the district,” said Jaeda Coleman, a Middleton High School sophomore.
The mentors are part of Leaders Emerging to Achieve Greatness by Uplifting Each Other, or LEAGUE, which incorporates other groups at Middleton, including the Latinos Unidos and the Student Voice Union.
“I love it. ... The kids are just so adorable. It is really good to see them every week,” Coleman said. “It gives you sort of a break from high school where everything (academically) is really tough and stressful.”
The Black Student Union, Latinos Unidos and the Student Voice Union all send leaders to the national conference of the Minority Student Achievement Network. It is a national consortium of 27 multiracial, suburban-urban school districts working together to understand and eliminate racial opportunity/achievement gaps that persist within their schools. The organization is based at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at UW-Madison and includes the Madison School District, which is a founding member, and the Sun Prairie, Verona and Middleton-Cross Plains districts.
Each year, students from around the country gather at the national MASN conference held at different locations. This past fall it was in Boston, but Middleton students weren’t able to go. Next fall, the Middleton-Cross Plains School District will host it.
“We are really excited to plan it and control what happens that weekend –- to get to be in charge of the topics we talk about,” said Coleman, who has not been to a national conference before.
Toward the end of the national conference, the students come up with an action plan to take back to their schools.
The mentoring effort by Middleton students was one of many pieces of multi-year action plans developed in the past, said Percy Brown, director of equity and student achievement for the Middleton-Cross Plains School District. LEAGUE also informally came out of the national conference, he said.
Right now students do mentoring during their lunch hour, but Brown hopes the mentoring effort can be developed into a class for which students could receive credit.
“For high school kids to give up their lunch hour, that’s something in and of itself,” he said.
Carri Hale, a counselor at Verona High School, chaperoned a trip by six students to attend the conference in Boston. One of the group’s seniors put a proposal together to make a video about microaggressions. She asked for the support of the English course, “Voices Rising,” and invited Principal Pam Hammen to a formal presentation of the proposal. The video was approved and the students are working to have lessons created to help the whole community grow.
The Verona School District, which hosted the MSAN National Student Conference in 2015 for 20 school districts in 10 states, has sent students to the national conference since 2012, Hale said.
Another action plan that came out of a national conference was directly related to creating spaces for Verona students and staff to have dialogue about RACT (Respect All Colors Equally). The students met a presenter named Calvin Terrell, a speaker, educator and community builder from Phoenix, Arizona. Inspired by his work toward equity, the students later brought him to a Dane County MSAN conference that the Verona students hosted for 13 different high schools.
Madeline Hafner, executive director of MSAN, said the organization shares resources, conducts research and supports students of color who are equity leaders in their district .
This fall, the organization, which started with 15 districts, will mark its 20th anniversary.
“We all wish the network wasn’t necessary but until it isn’t, we are going to keep doing what we are doing,” Hafner said.