What Do MPS Students Want?

Politicians and pundits are in the business of proposing and commenting on public education in Milwaukee. Rather than go to them, we asked UW-Milwaukee journalism major Nyesha Stone, a recent graduate of Rufus King International School, to find out what Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) students are thinking. She surveyed some students who are currently enrolled in MPS for their thoughts on the schools they attend and the value of education.

We all know the saying “more money, more problems,” but is this always true? It can’t be, because there are thousands of students who could benefit from some more cash—not in their pockets, but in their school systems. The point was made at a recent town hall meeting about Wisconsin’s education budget with State Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee): Milwaukee Public Schools needs more money.

Every Wisconsin school district has a maximum amount (revenue limit) they can spend on each student. During the meeting, attendees were shown data that breaks down how much each school district can spend on their students. MPS’ limit is $10,261 per student while Whitefish Bay can spend $11,248; Brown Deer $11,626; and Fox Point $13,577. The state decides how much school districts can spend based mainly on the value of that district’s property taxes. By doing this, certain students are receiving a lot less because of where their school sits. But it doesn’t just stop there.

Ninety percent of Wisconsin’s African Americans live within six counties. Within those six counties, students in largely black school districts have lower spending limits than students in predominately white districts. Are these African American students deemed less worthy? Are children from the inner city receiving less of an education, even if they are doing as well or even better than suburban students?

To see how this funding disparity affects the inner city, students from the Lynde & Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School shared their thoughts on MPS as well as Wisconsin’s school system overall.

Christopher De’Bose, age 17

His position is small forward; he’s the basketball team captain and was mentioned in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. De’Bose is making a name for himself in a positive way, but because he goes to Bradley Tech he can be categorized as a “bad” student because of his school’s bad reputation.

“We can’t expunge our history; all we can do is keep going forward,” De’Bose said.

He believes if Milwaukee created more technical schools, it would benefit not only the students, but the entire city. Many contractors look for workers at Bradley Tech because their students are learning a trade. Technical schools are conduits to the workforce.

De’Bose loves his school, but he does wish he could change and add a few things to the MPS system. A big brother/sister program would make a student’s life easier since not everyone has someone at home they can depend on, said De’Bose.

“We need someone to be there for us,” De’Bose said.

He would also like to bring the schools together for a community service session to bond with each other instead of rivaling. Just like the suburban schools, De’Bose wants more training and preparation before taking the ACT. They’re only given about 45 minutes of practice, and then the students are left on their own to study.

Despite the things MPS may be lacking, De’Bose beat the system. He has a full-ride scholarship to Bryant & Stratton College where they’ll also be paying for his shoulder surgery. Once he’s healed, he’ll be playing on their basketball team.

He wants to go to school to become a medical assistant.

De’Bose has received the Student of the Month Award so many times, he’s no longer eligible to win. It’s his goal to give Bradley Tech a new reputation. “I want to get us known,” De’Bose said, “known as something instead of nothing.”

Nola-Simone Blockton, age 17

She has her hands in everything since she “doesn’t like being bored.” Blockton rarely has time to herself because she’s working hard to go places her mother never went.

She’s in the National Honor Society and works with multiple organizations—Pathways Milwaukee, Young Entrepreneur Scholars, Sister Pride, College Corners, and the list continues.

Blockton spent three years in private school, and she can proudly say, “MPS is better,” because she’s able to be more involved with her community. It may have been a better fit for Blockton, but she does see the differences between MPS and the previous schools she’s attended.

If it were possible, Blockton would have MPS purchase newer textbooks to keep up with the richer districts. “Stop dummying down the school system,” she said.

When Blockton entered MPS, she was already ahead of most of her classmates. In private school, the middle schoolers are learning algebra 2, which isn’t taught to MPS students until high school. As she spent more time in MPS, she thought to herself, “This is stuff I have been learning.”

MPS doesn’t take its time making sure each and every student understands the curriculum before moving them on to the next grade, said Blockton. She would like MPS to stop the process of just passing people because it only harms the student. By the time such students reach high school, they’re behind, and to be further behind students who are already behind compared to other districts is only creating a wider education gap.

“Because of how the system is, we’re always going to have a disadvantage,” she said.

School is Blockton’s biggest motivator, but how can something that isn’t fully benefiting her motivate her? Because she knows if she just gives up, she’ll end up as a statistic. Blockton doesn’t want much from MPS—just the same resources other Wisconsin school districts receive. As she puts it, she’s producing quality work and staying on top everything, so why is she receiving less?

Jary Barnette, age 17

Through a program at his school, Barnette was able to watch a plaza being built from the ground up. He has more knowledge of how to build things than most youth his age.

His advice for MPS: “For every five students, hire a tutor.” He says this because students tend to get the work and just do it—even if they’re not sure if they’re doing it correctly. They need guidance.

Barnette is a part of a generation where technology is becoming more important by the day. To “stay caught up with the world,” Barnette suggest MPS loan its students software because not everyone can afford to buy their own.

He believes inner city kids don’t pay attention to nature enough, and he wants to change this, and he believes it starts with the school system. He would like for farming classes to be introduced into the curriculum along with other life skills, such as how to do taxes.

He calls himself a “creative person,” so no wonder he wants a variety of classes. Thankfully, his school has provided him with that option, even if it’s not to the extent he wants. Barnette has taken classes in engineering, Photoshop and web design class, and he’s ready to learn more.

Barnette likes to spend his time helping others, whether putting together a school dance or helping a student study—he does it all.

He doesn’t just blame the school system for inner city students’ troubles in education. “It starts at home,” Barnette said. “It’s up to parents to teach at home … studying needs to continue at home.”

Barnette compares being an MPS student to being an ant. Students are forced to be workers, yet they don’t always benefit from their work. To combat this, students should be taught how to promote themselves, he said. Students should start thinking of themselves as businesses, but first they need to learn how to run one.

Aside from his school, Barnette is a patient care assistant at United Health Care. He’s a helper all around, and he’s hoping someone will help MPS one day.

Shawn Bierstedt, age 16

He’s the youngest of the bunch and the quietest, but he has an opinion, too. When Bierstedt first heard of his school, there was one thing he kept hearing: There are fights every day, but he says this isn’t a true statement.

“It’s way different than what people say,” Bierstedt said. “Yeah, you get fights … one or two every three months.”

He started off high school wanting to be a biotech, but after taking a bunch of classes he decided to go another route. Bierstedt took a trip to see the Bucks Arena being built, and after that he knew what he wanted to do with his life—become an engineer.

Bierstedt has been a part of Marquette’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP)—Upward Bound (UB) for a year. This is a program for low-income, first-generation students; Marquette helps prepare these students for college, so they’re able to complete college efficiently.

He likes attending his high school because the students “are technically working.” They’re taught a trade, and use that trade throughout their school year. By the time Bradley Tech students graduate, they’ll be able to find a good paying job with their newly learned trade.

Bierstedt doesn’t like how the media focuses on the color of a child’s skin, instead of worrying about the education that child is receiving. He feels MPS gets a bad name because of the race of the students who attend MPS. He says he wants an equal education system because all children deserve to have a good education, no matter where they come from.

He’s sick of tests that do nothing for him—WKCE, Wisconsin Forward Exam and more. He doesn’t understand why he must take a test to prove his intelligence. He gets an A in the class and can answer the teacher’s questions, but when it comes to a test he freezes up. He gets anxiety, and why should those who are already doing well in a class be forced to prove themselves even more?

He wants to learn about everyday topics such as laws, stocks and investments. He doesn’t think it’s fair MPS students are only taught math, reading and the basics, while richer school districts have it all.

What Does This All Mean?

These four students are only a small number of MPS students who are excelling and beating the odds. They have issues at home, and within their school system, but they keep going. MPS students aren’t asking for much—they’re asking to be treated as equals and not criminals. Every day, those four students must walk through security scanners. Do suburban students do this, too? The answer is no, because when there’s a high percentage of people of color, specifically African Americans, many people immediately assume there’s going to be trouble.

These students aren’t troublemakers or criminals, they’re just children who want a better education. They have a lot of odds they must face just because of where they come from, and education shouldn’t be another barrier for them. They need an escape from the real world they live in, and that’s what education is supposed to provide them.

If this was your child, wouldn’t you want them to have better, too?


Nyesha StoneComment