For the fifth year in a row, John Milton is spending most of his spring break away from home to show African-American students higher education options not available to them in Wisconsin.
As the minority services coordinator at La Follette High School, Milton is one of several chaperones for the more than 60 students from La Follette, East and Memorial high schools who are in the middle of a trip to tour historically black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs.
This year, students left Madison on Thursday to spend a little less than a week in the mid-Atlantic coast region visiting seven universities that have historically educated black students: Hampton University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina A&T State University, Winston-Salem State University, Virginia State University, Virginia Union University and Norfolk State University.
To cover some of the cost of the trip — including coach buses, hotel rooms and food — students ran bake sales, sold pizza at school and asked for donations, Milton said. The district also seeks grants for the trip, which has been going on for more than 10 years, he said.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, the 54-year-old Milton attended North Dakota State and studied social science and humanities. He has been in his current role for five years, previously serving at the adjacent Sennett Middle School in a mentor coordinator position.
He is married to his high school sweetheart, Sheila, whom he met at Rufus King International High School in Milwaukee. The couple live on the Far West Side and have two daughters — one who just graduated from UW-Madison in neuroscience and psychology and another who is at the university pursuing a degree in fashion design.
What does your role as minority services coordinator involve?
Number one is just promoting students to go to college, providing resources that they can improve on themselves — whether it’s ACT scores, writing — always pushing academics and being a true support for all students of diverse backgrounds, no matter what it is, dealing with students who are going through trauma situations or battle with homelessness, being there to support them. So I do a gamut of everything.
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What attracted you to a career in education?
I always loved working with students. When I graduated from North Dakota State, I graduated with a social science and humanities degree. I really didn’t know what to do, kind of bounced around from helping out at group homes and detention centers. Once we moved up here, I got involved with the school district working at Lowell Elementary School. ... It’s very powerful to see students graduate in four years, go off and be successful whether they go to college or not, but being that strong support system for them.
What’s the trip experience like?
It’s a good time just to be out on the bus, get to know the students a little better, see their excitement to go to another state that maybe they might not have been at and then to step on the ground of an HBCU. Just giving them a perspective of what it’s like to be in the majority of a population versus the minority like some of the schools up north.
What do students get out of attending these trips and visiting the schools?
We’ve had at least five to 10 students who apply either on the spot or after visiting the school, apply and get in. … I know at La Follette, ourselves, we have students who are at Norfolk or Hampton and they love it. Just to have the opportunity to be around that support system kind of fuels their soul to do better in education and it gives them options, whether they want to go to UW-Madison or they want to go to a HBCU.
Now that you’ve visited so many of these colleges, would you have liked to have attended a HBCU growing up?
When I was graduating from Rufus King High School, I had an offer to go to North Dakota State or Alcorn State (an historically black university in Mississippi). North Dakota State was offering a scholarship, which was half at the time. Alcorn State was not offering any scholarship, and the person I had to beat out on the (basketball) team was the coach’s son. So although I was very interested in Alcorn, I just couldn’t see him cutting his son, but I made the right choice and went to North Dakota State.