Being “worst in the nation” isn’t something we are used to in the state of Wisconsin. But, according to the esteemed Annie E. Casey Foundation, Wisconsin’s African-American children score at the very bottom of their Race for Results index, a composite of 12 key indicators of children’s well-being. By comparison, white children in Wisconsin score 10th. Wisconsin’s racial divide is the largest in the nation.
The high school graduation gap between white and African-American students in the Fox Cities illustrates an important part of this picture. In fact, our graduation gap is worse than Milwaukee’s and, in some cases, more than double the gap that exists in our state’s largest city. To put it bluntly, our community has a long way to go to ensure all our young people have an equal chance to reach their full potential.
With the help of a three-year grant for a total of $250,000 from the Community Foundation’s Bright Idea Fund and other organizations in the community, we have a real shot at significantly reducing the gap between white and African-American students.
The STAR initiative, Scholars on Target to Achieve Results, is a collaboration involving the Appleton and Menasha school districts, Lawrence University, St. Norbert College, Fox Valley Technical College, the University of Wisconsin System, African Heritage Inc. and ThedaCare. The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley will be fulfilling the role of the backbone organization.
STAR will eventually employ a team of nine full-time opportunity coordinators who will serve as advocates, mentors, connectors and guides for our community’s black students.
“Opportunity coordinators collaborate with students, parents/guardians, school administrators, county social workers and school counselors in order to ensure the student receives the support they need for academic success and the ability to reach their full potential when they reach adulthood,” said Kayla McNamara, Director of Targeted Support Services for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley.
“Each meeting with a student involves checking academic indicators such as grades, attendance, and behavior referrals, then connecting with the student to get their perspective and help the student to establish plans for improvement as needed,” Kayla added.
The program began serving students in February 2018 with five opportunity coordinators at Maplewood Middle School in Menasha, Menasha High School, Wilson Middle School in Appleton, and Appleton West High School.
Starting in the fall, STAR will be adding four opportunity coordinator positions to other schools in the Appleton school district.