Milwaukee students bring their Black Lives Matter activism back to the classroom

“It’s something students are definitely going to want to talk about when they come back to school,” Samantha Garrett told me while schools were closed for the summer in Milwaukee, and the community was grappling with the uncertainty of how the district would reopen amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the “it” Garrett referred to in this case was not the disease. It was the other big story that continued to dominate news throughout the summer—the wave after wave of protests for Black lives that have drawn an estimated 15-26 million Americans out into streets across the country.

“Thousands of high school students have participated in demonstrations against police killings of unarmed Black people,” Education Week reports. “Some students are demanding that their school districts adopt anti-racist curricula.” Consequently, educators, from policymakers to practitioners, are scrambling to reinvent curricula and instruction to be more culturally relevant to nonwhite students….

“People always want to start the conversation about community schools with the wraparound services,” Ingrid Walker-Henry told me. Walker-Henry is an organizer for the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and is on temporary release to work for the union after teaching in Milwaukee since 2000.

“Those things are huge,” she said, but what matters more are the model’s reliance on shared leadership, equity, and culturally relevant practice.“Those tenets force us to ask, ‘What does equity look like? How do we address the opportunity gaps in society?’” she said.

MAC, for instance, did not always have a Youth Council or an ethnic studies program, much less any kind of protocol allowing Black students to influence curricula. But it was the school’s fidelity to the community schools model that brought those things about.”

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