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As the Madison School District decides which organizations and partners to fund, it should embrace — and support — the Simpson Street Free Press.

The Simpson Street student newspaper, unlike some of the district’s attempts to bridge the achievement gap between students of color and white students, has a long record of success.

I was a Schools of Hope volunteer for a short time and have been a Simpson Street volunteer for about six years. The intentions of Schools of Hope tutors are admirable, and it is important that citizens who may not have school-age children connect with the schools.

But I found the experience of pulling students out of class for a very limited time once a week less than satisfying or productive. Though the principal and classroom teacher I worked with were wonderful, I felt frustrated as a former reading specialist.

My long Simpson Street Free Press experience has been gratifying. I have been able to work with some students once a week for years, watching them grow from struggling readers and writers to competent mentors for younger students. They also have taken on larger and more complex assignments themselves.

With close reading of materials that complement their school curriculum in science, history, geography and other topics, students learn the meanings of new words and concepts, grapple with identifying central ideas, and think about how to explain what they have read in their own words. They then figure out how to organize their ideas and seek help from experienced editors or volunteers if they get stuck. Their writing goes through many edits, until their work is ultimately deemed ready to publish.

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Students also have access to math tutors. Because the program is open year-round, it can minimize the summer slide in learning.

Parents are involved and supportive from the outset. Students are expected to keep up their school attendance. they must communicate with staff if they are unable to “come to work,” because writing for Simpson Street is considered a job. School grades are tracked with the help and consent of parents, and progress is documented. The curriculum works. It is replicable and award-winning. Students who “graduate” from the Simpson Street Free Press go to college.

That’s why the Madison School District and city should enthusiastically commit at least modest sums of support to the Simpson Street Free Press. And they should do so annually, as former School Board member Dean Loumos has suggested.

I support School Board member Nicki Vander Meulen’s school district budget amendment to deliver $30,000 to the Simpson Street Free Press. And if the district is serious about bridging the achievement gap, it should provide resources to extend the Simpson Street Free Press’ highly effective curriculum to more sites.

On this week's "Center Stage" political podcast, Milfred and Hands praise the Madison School Board's 4-3 vote to keep a city police officer in each of Madison's four main high schools. They also play a clip of protesters who have shut down School Board meetings, cite statistics on school arrests and citations, and read from a West High survey.

I have been able to work with some students once a week for years, watching them grow from struggling readers and writers to competent mentors for younger students.

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Robbins is a professor and director emerita in the Information School at UW-Madison: lsrobbin@wiscmail.wisc.edu.

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