Milwaukee charter school wins national family learning grant


By Paul Brennan |

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Kia Green was impressed by the large number of parents who came to a special meeting at Milwaukee Environmental Sciences Charter School on a bitterly cold November night.

Impressed, but not surprised.

“Parents are very involved in this school,” Green, the mother of a fourth grader at MES, told Watchdog. “The teachers and the administration really reach out to us, and we have many opportunities to become involved.”

There will be even more opportunities in the coming year, thanks to a grant from Toyota and the National Center for Families Learning.

MES will receive $175,000 to further parental involvement in education. The grant, which was the subject of the special meeting, was announced last week.

MES was one of only five educational institutions nationwide selected to receive a grant through the program. This achievement seems even more impressive since MES has only been open since August 2013.

The school was founded by the Milwaukee Teacher Education Center, a nonprofit that offers educator certification programs and professional development and instructional coaching for teachers.

FAMILY INVOLVEMENT: Kia Green is very involved in her daugher Zion-Elon’s education at MES. When her two younger children are old enough, she intends to send them to MES, too.

MES opened last year serving 4-year-olds in K4 early kindergarten through students in Grade 5. Sixth grade was added this year. The plan is to add a grade each year until the school is a full K4 through Grade 12 school.

MTEC Executive Director Alisia Moutry wasn’t surprised by MES being awarded the grant.

“You have to have high expectations and reach for excellence. Then you just hope somebody notices,” she explained. “I am extremely excited that someone noticed and noticed so quickly.”

It didn’t take Green long to notice MES was an exceptional school. Her daughter Zion-Elon entered third grade when it opened last year.

“I was originally attracted to the school because of its expeditionary learning approach. Zion-Elon does best in a hands-on learning environment,” Green said.

The expeditionary learning model involves linking classroom learning to real-world experience. School-wide projects culminating in tangible results are used in this approach.

One of the first projects at MES was creating a cistern system to collect rainwater at the school. That created the opportunity to teach students about ways to measure volumes of liquids and the nature of weather systems.

The water collected was used in the school’s vegetable gardens, leading to lessons on the science involved in growing plants and good nutrition. The vegetables from the gardens were served in the school’s cafeteria. Students also used them to make salsa, which was sold to a local organic food shop.

But it wasn’t rainwater or salsa that truly impressed Green. It was the dedication of the teachers.

“In October of last year, during a week when the school was supposed to be closed for the trimester break, the teachers came in each day to work with children on the subjects they needed the most help with,” Green recalled.

That dedication is typical of MES teachers, according to Principal Roseann Lococo.

“Our teachers are absolutely focused on the kids,” Lococo told Watchdog. “I could ask any of my teachers to do anything for the kids, and the only questions they would ask is where and when,” Lococo said.

That dedication is showing results. School enrollment grew from 147 students last year to 215 students this year. Ninety-two percent of the first year’s students returned to MES this year.

That dedication also carries over to the families of the students.

“We want to make parents as welcome as possible at the school,” Lococo said. “To involve them in their child’s education.”

Green offered evidence of this involvement.

“I could show you on my phone, the contact information for many of the teachers at this school,” Green said. “Last night, I had a question about Zion-Elon’s homework, so I texted her teacher. She texted me right back with an answer.”

“The autonomy that comes with being a charter school helps us put the best people in place to teach the children,” Lococo explained. “There’s also been a great buy-in from our parents, working with us and our students.”

A STRONG RELATIONSHIP: MES Principal Roseann Lococo believes, “Having a strong relationship with parents changes the dynamics at a school.”

“Having a strong relationship with parents changes the dynamics at a school and is important in creating a school that’s really successful.”

The grant money will help further involve parents in their education. The school will host educational sessions for parents two evenings each week.

“The aim is give the parents tools they can use for academics or technology, or anything that will better the lives of our families,” Lococo said. “Then parents will undertake to spend two hours working with their children on education issues — here at the school or at home.”

“The final goal is for our parents to become mentors to other parents,” Lococo said.

Sitting in the MES parents’ lounge, where parents can spend time with students before, during and after the school day, Green said she is looking forward to the expansion of parental involvement the grant will allow.

With Green was her preschool-age daughter, Zuri, and her newborn son, Zakai.

“I intend to send them to Milwaukee Environmental Sciences when they are old enough,” Green said, with a beaming smile. “I’m very excited about the future of this school.”

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