Racine Unified is filled with dedicated teachers working really hard to equip their students with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to be successful adults. Likewise, the district has so many amazing kids doing incredible things that we just don’t have the time to write all those stories.
But, you wouldn’t know any of that based on a recent op-ed from Rep. Tom Weatherston in The Journal Times. In his editorial, Weatherston recounted all the ways in which Racine Unified students are failing, but not once did he offer any solutions, links to organizations and groups where adults can volunteer, or tell people how he is working personally to be the change he wants to see.
Racine Unified has ISSUES … we get it, but there’s also a lot of hope, promise and potential as evidenced by the numbers released by Superintendent Lolli Haws during a Raising Racine presentation:
- Graduation rates are up 6.5 percent in the past five years. “Though we did see a slight dip this year, we have a steady trend up,” district spokesperson Stacy Tapp noted in an email to Racine County Eye.
- Math and reading scores have increased each year for the last three years.
- More than $5 million in scholarships were awarded to the Class of 2016.
- Participation in AP classes and the IB program continue to grow; likewise, the number of AP scholars and full IB diploma graduates does as well.
- Early childhood education programs here are recognized across the state.
Not once in his op-ed did Weatherston try to balance his argument by pointing out that poverty remains the number one obstacle to academic success. Racine Unified has the second highest student poverty rate in the state, and there are an estimated 1,500 students – nearly 10 percent of the total student population – who are homeless at any given time.
That’s not to say students can’t succeed despite or in spite of their circumstances because of course they can, and making sure more kids do exactly that will take adults active in their lives who encourage them, guide them, and set an example to follow. In order to effectively combat the challenges so many students face as their lives race forward caring adults from across the RUSD community will need to step forward and give their time and talents to other people’s kids.
Lifting kids up so they can take full advantage of the academic opportunities available to them means getting out of your house and getting involved, giving of yourself and looking past the end of your own front porch. Mentor Kenosha-Racine and Schools of Hope are two great examples of programs that make a real difference in the lives of students. Not only does each student develop a positive connection with the adult with whom they’re paired, the child also receives one-on-one attention to help them dive into school work so they have a better chance of succeeding overall.
Even better? Students who participate in mentoring programs are more likely to exhibit improved behavior in class and see an uptick in their grade point averages. Both outcomes are not only positive but also increase the likelihood these students will stay in school, graduate and either go into some kind of higher education or enter the workforce better prepared. All positive outcomes, right?
More, the very soft skills Weatherston cites as missing from so many potential employees is a focus area for the school district. All incoming freshmen are required to take Freshman Seminar where they will start to learn and practice these skills. And, Tapp added, through the Academies of Racine structure – access to job exploration, internships, and career expos – students will have increased opportunities to put their soft skills to work.
Weatherston is in a position to actually create change by funding programs that help students succeed and making sure students have access to higher education. He’s in a position to affect positive change on a personal level by getting actively involved with students in schools, but instead he points fingers.
Like too many RUSD community members, Weatherston finds a lot of fault with the school district but isn’t really working to change things. Instead, he sits behind a desk trying to legislate success without actually working with students – taking the time to get to know one or two and mentor them – which is what it takes if we really want to raise Racine.