When a series of news reports came out in 2004 documenting the low literacy and achievement rates of city students, Tony Perez, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM) decided to do something about it. “It was clear to me we had a role to play in seeing that the children in our developments stay in school, get a quality education, and graduate.”
And he had no qualms about using the PHA’s leverage as housing provider to make participation in the program a requirement for moving into a revitalized HOPE VI development.
The program is the Education Initiative. It has been remarkably successful at building a wrap-around program for hundreds of children, understanding that getting children to attend school is only part of the challenge.
“Studies constantly show that children do better when their
parents are involved,” said Education Specialist Darrell Finch, himself a
former public housing resident. “Not only do the children do better, but the
adults in their lives become more interested in their own education.”
Mr. Finch works one-on-one with families to develop individual educational achievement plans for their children, and meets with them quarterly. He promotes quality early education programs, and helps to coordinate activities that build what he describes as “an environment of learning.”
“The program proactively helps prevent problems like crime, drugs and gangs, because we make sure the kids are in school every day,” he said. “By working with children and parents to create a plan for educational success, it has a domino effect. First we see a change in attitudes and then a change in behavior, which often leads to an increase in their GPA. They find hope that they can have a great life.”
The initiative provides a wide range of activities. There
are after-school programs, mentors, and tutors. There are trips to college
campuses and area businesses to learn about potential careers.
There’s an annual spelling bee and student recognition awards.
“It encourages good parent involvement in your child’s education, because if you want to get something out of them, you have to make some deposits in their lives,” said Valerie Bennett, a mother of three children who have been through the Initiative and all of whom have graduated from high school.
“The program reinforces the importance of education, and it has allowed me an opportunity to say to my kids, ‘Let’s do this together,’” said Theresa Washington, a mother of 10, eight of whom have graduated and two of whom are still in school. “I went back to school too, and I’m now getting my degree in Business Administration and Management.”