Madison is home to an increasing number of rootless young people who have dropped out of school, are unemployed and are often at the heart of many of the community's social and neighborhood problems.
We've asked the Madison school board candidates to identify what Madison schools can do to prevent these kids from dropping out and a related question: How should the Madison schools serve students who are not interested in attending college.
Isthmus' cover story this week addressed the rise of "disconnected youth" in our community -- kids who aren't in school, who don't have jobs and who don't have supportive families to help them. These kids often get in trouble. Is there more that Madison schools can do to address their needs before they drop out?
Johnny Winston, Jr.
Madison schools are in an untenable position. Our community has high expectations for its students, however, many factors that are outside of the schools' control such as family stability, poverty, gangs, drugs and racism are all factors in youth being disconnected. School government cannot be expected to solve these challenges alone regardless of the status of the Madison Metropolitan School District's budget.
Despite these myriad social challenges, Madison schools offer a quality educational opportunity for students to be successful in a global economy. It is up to each individual student to take full advantage of that opportunity.For non-traditional students, the MMSD has many alternative, evening and equivalency diploma programs. The school district provides support services through psychologists and social workers. Breakfast and lunch are available for those who qualify. The district extends the school day and school year with a comprehensive community education/recreation program located in every school adjacent to a low-income neighborhood or in the neighborhood itself.
To fully address the needs of disconnected youth, the district should strengthen its partnerships with Operation Fresh Start, Asian Freedom, Inc. and the multitude of other non-profit organizations that currently work with children, youth and families. I also propose that the Madison Community Foundation, United Way, Dane County, City of Madison and the school district evaluate existing programs, encourage consolidation, adequately fund and move services to underserved areas to maximize potential of and provide wrap around services to schools. It takes a whole village to raise a child and to educate one as well.
One idea that MMSD can do more of with "disconnected youth" is to try and hook them up with a mentor who could try and help them out and be a stabilizing force in their life. I know that this is easier said than done. We as a community have to identify these youths and see how we can help them.
Let's look at other cities that have been successful in dealing with this problem and see what they have done that has helped them solve the problem. It is not just a school problem but a city and county problem and the MMSD has to continue to work with the city and county to try and solve the problem of "disconnected youth."
Our schools, says former county executive Jonathan Barry, do well with motivated, college-bound students, but are increasingly failing students who don't see college in their future. Do you agree or disagree with his assessment that the Madison schools should be doing more with vocational education, and why?
Johnny Winston, Jr.
Yes, Madison schools should do more with vocational education. We have to first change our ideology and recognize that not all students are college bound, a fact often overshadowed by proximity to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Some students will become physicians, nurses, and lawyers and others will become plumbers, mechanics and carpenters. All of these professions are noble, make positive contributions to society and provide a living wage for families. Only about 20-25% of jobs in the U.S. labor market since 1950 require a bachelor's degree or more. So vocational education is a realistic path for many students.
Next, the MMSD should consider as a part of the high school redesign process other connected learning strategies, to integrate traditional core curriculum with transferable job training that can also be extended to the technical and two-year college system. Green Bay Area Public Schools has implemented the Career Academies in high schools partnering with local businesses to provide all students in depth training and in some cases actual certification in various fields. MMSD can explore school-within-a-school models that help more students explore their career life options with real world experience.
I have pledged my support for Madison and Dane County's effort to reach disconnected youth led by Jonathan Barry, State Representative Joe Parisi and Ed Clarke of MATC. I also volunteered to serve on United Way's task force on disconnected and violent youth. I look forward to working with the task force in addressing this challenge in our community.
Mr. Barry is right in his assessment of the MMSD. The district has to recognize that not all students are going to go to college, and has to serve those students that want to go into the "trades" by offering vocational courses for these students.
As a board member I will advocate strongly for courses that are geared to the "trades" and to the students that are not going to college. It is time to look also at how best do we serve these students that are not going to college. I believe that the district should encourage outside groups, like trade unions or business associations, to present ideas to the board on what the curriculum could be in a "charter school" that is geared to non college bound students.
Let us look at all ideas on to have excellence in education in the Madison schools at an affordable price.