Completing high school is usually a long awaited accomplishment for individuals, especially since many students have already been in a school setting for about 14-15 years by the time they graduate. So some may wonder, why continue education if they have already completed the degree they were promised would secure their future?
Completing high school is just one of many steps towards growth and development as an adult. People are typically finishing their high school degree around the age of 18. At this age, they are first being recognized as an adult rather than a child in the eyes of the government. Meaning: now the age requirement on many jobs is no longer affecting them, and it may seem like their future possibilities are endless. However, by 2020, it is estimated that 62% of Wisconsin jobs will require some sort of post-secondary education or credential. Along with that, those in Kenosha County without these credentials are twice as likely to be in poverty. This could potentially hinder opportunities students have after graduating high school if they choose not to continue their education towards completing some sort of post-secondary credential.
According to our Baseline report last year, only 35% of economically disadvantaged students and 54% of their not economically advantaged counterparts in Kenosha County enrolled in postsecondary education following their completion of high school. Not only that, but only 35% of Kenosha’s population has an Associates degree or higher, compared to 40% of Wisconsin’s population. These data points show us where we as a community stand in our educational fields and help give us a perspective on the life and opportunities our future generations have in their own community. We have the opportunity to raise these statistics and provide more of the choices students believe they have after completing high school.
If a student still hasn’t registered for school, it isn’t too late. There are a variety of different educational pathways students can pursue following the completion of high school. Gateway Technical College is always accepting applications and there’s even an opportunity to enroll while you’re still in high school. Want to get a taste of what college is like? Students who’ve completed 10th grade in KUSD and other schools throughout Kenosha County have the opportunity to enroll in the Early College Credit Program (ECCP) where they can take courses at UW-Parkside or Carthage College while still attending high school. With the completion of the course, the student will also receive college credit for that class at no extra charge.
In Kenosha County, high school graduates make at least $10,000 more than those who did not finish and are 42% more likely to be employed. We as a community have the opportunity to make a difference in the generations to come by providing them the tools, resources, knowledge, and motivation they need to succeed.
The current four year high school completion rate in Kenosha County is 88%, but this is not the case for all students. Although fairly high, only 80% of economically disadvantaged students graduate in four years, compared to their counterparts at 93%; and Black and Hispanic students graduate at rates of 75% and 84%, respectively, compared to their White counterparts at 92%.
Currently, only 11% of jobs don’t require a high school degree or more. Applicants for positions in carpentry, in the warehouse at Uline, or part-time in customer service at Gander Mountain are all expected to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent (GED). By 2025, it’s estimated that 62% of jobs will require some kind of post-secondary credential. To continue in postsecondary education, whether it is getting certified as a CNA, esthetician, or earning a 4-year degree in any field—a high school diploma or GED is almost always required.
Each step along the way is integral to graduation. A student not proficient in reading by third grade is 4 times less likely to graduate high school, and a student who passes algebra by the end of ninth grade is 75% more likely to graduate. Helping young students believe in their potential to understand math can make a huge impact on their future.
Regardless of whether a student is meeting these requirements, there are opportunities in our community to increase high school completion. The Boys & Girls Club offers children of all ages a safe space for physical activity and homework support. Conversations about careers and education can begin at any age, and using a resource like Career Cruising, an online tool, can help. A community united around a shared goal of increasing high school completion will lead to better outcomes for both our children and our community.
Words might be one of the most powerful tools we as humans have. As a partnership whose role is to bring our Kenosha County community together to improve student outcomes, we know words have the power to inspire people together towards action, or to divide and “other” groups that are different from us. When phrases are embedded in our everyday language, it can be difficult to take a step back and think about the broader meaning behind the words. But, we believe that using continuous improvement and being reflective in our work is the only way for us to move forward.
That’s why we encourage you to consider flipping a script that you may not even know that you have, and that we’ve also used. In education, it has become widely understood that there is an “achievement gap” that exists. This is most often used to describe the difference in academic outcomes between student groups--typically, between white students and students of color. Now, it is helpful to have a common language so that when people come together to create solutions, everyone is on the same page sooner and can help move the conversation further. And, we want to make certain that we’re creating positive narratives that will encourage all our Kenosha County students to achieve their full potential.
In recent years, some have suggested replacing “Achievement Gap” with “Opportunity Gap.” The word “Achievement” very subtly attributes lower rates of academic success to the students themselves, or to the schools, rather than to the unequal and inequitable distribution of educational opportunities to different student groups and neighborhoods. This shift may also change our mindsets as we work together to identify solutions that lead to more equitable outcomes. Opportunities for students to choose and own books in their own home, attend high-quality early childhood education, participate in summer camps, and build relationships with adults with varying careers and post-secondary credentials, all have a compounding effect on a student’s achievement over their lifetime.
The issue, therefore, is an opportunity gap, not an achievement gap. Our hope is that this re-frame will inspire us to continue working together towards systems change--leading to systems where all of our students have access to equitable opportunities to support and promote their learning and success.
How You Can Help:
The past couple decades have seen an increase in an interest in data and its use—indeed, Google searches for “Analytics” are 6.5 times what they were in 2004, and the term “Big Data” only started appearing en masse in searches around 2010. While data analysis can be very powerful, to many, data is still unapproachable and tends to over-generalize its findings. This is why context around data is as important as the data analysis it informs, and it is usually why an analysis can miss the mark.
This is the case especially in education. Regardless of a child’s age, differences in development, personal life, and learning styles abound, making general statements a very precarious undertaking. If I told you that students from lower income backgrounds tend to perform worse academically, one might think that individuals with less money simply do worse in school. In reality, however, this speaks nothing about the individual, rather it speaks to factors associated with lower incomes that might cause a student to do worse in school—like poor nutrition, inability to attend school on a regular basis due to varying reasons, or a host of other circumstantial influences.
In order to address this, Building Our Future has created data teams comprised of professionals that work specifically with and for each of our educational networks. These four work teams focus on developing systems around data use to advance Building Our Future’s vision within the areas of kindergarten readiness (the Smart Beginnings Network), Early Grade Reading, Community Engagement, and, the newest network area, High School Completion, Postsecondary Success, and Career Readiness. Meeting for an hour each month, they discuss the appropriate use of data to support what professionals in the field are doing and create analytics to guide their strategy.
Data is the way of the future—there’s no doubting that. It’s power, though, cannot be understated, nor can it be used lightly. In working together, Kenosha County can affect the systems and language around its data to make the outcomes of our children better and more equitable for years to come.
Ways to Get Involved:
My personal mission statement is “Create safe places for people to live into their genius.” Building Our Future’s work speaks to that. In my life, I am most grateful for those who provide a safe place for me to be all I can be.
I believe everyone has a unique genius and, with the right support and hard work, they can live into it, making the positive impact our world needs.
My soul aches when I think of the child, capable of making the next major medical breakthrough but, because of circumstances out of their control, they will never get the chance. I am driven by joy when I think of my father, a high school dropout, who had a community that saw something in him he could not, supporting him in building a successful company that has made a positive difference for many.
Coming to Kenosha has been a blessing for me, my family, and our business. I am grateful to those who came before and had a grand vision for our future and I do not take their hard work and civic responsibility for granted.
In previous generations, they saw a need for a bank, a hospital, a social security office, a business park, and on and on, so they built them. They had full lives but made the time to take on a bigger, community-focused vision that included more than their personal success.
Building Our Future is a vision for the next generation. Too many of our children are falling through the cracks, and it affects every one of us. It affects the future and will take an entire community committing to change. Schools can’t do it alone.
For me, Building Our Future is a way to pay forward the blessings I have been given by this community. It is a way for Kenosha County to be all it can be.
A thriving future will require the genius of every child, and we must create an infrastructure that provides for that.
The vision “EVERYONE ACHIEVING PERSONAL POTENTIAL CRADLE TO CAREER” is a real possibility. For me, it’s a vision worth spending the rest of my life on.
In the words of Margaret Meade, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The buzz in recent years on the importance of early childhood has been roaring. Young children’s brains are producing 1 million new neural connections per second in the first few years of life, and we now understand the bigger picture of why we need to set families up for success from very early-on. Research has shown that investing in quality care and programming at this young age, specifically for our most disadvantaged children, leads to a 13% return on investment annually. Kenosha County residents of all generations, and our economy, would benefit widely from this return. This is the work of our Smart Beginnings Network.
Dr. Diane Gerlach, pediatrician at Aurora Health Care and champion of this work, demonstrates this. “When children are struggling early on, they tend to have behavior problems. This adds stress to the parent who may also be struggling with parenting, and it bleeds over to their [employment] with poor productivity and attendance. Identifying problem areas early allows for early treatment, which decreases their struggles and behavior problems, which decreases parent stress. This creates better current and future employees.” Smart Beginnings brings together community partners to directly address the importance of early childhood through alignment of programs and systems.
This group has launched its collaborative action approach by aligning with childcare centers and equipping them with the Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3), a developmental screening tool. Childcare centers get trained to educate parents and caregivers about developmental milestones and provide them with activities to help their child thrive. Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher, so when parents understand the importance of reading, talking, and playing with their child, it can result in significant gains in developmental outcomes. Regular screenings can also ensure that families receive needed interventions early. When parents are supported, they can be more present and productive employees, residents, and leaders in our community. Businesses and our overall economy are then poised to profit.
We are already seeing small wins with this alignment. The number of reported ASQ-3s in Kenosha County has doubled over this time last year, resulting in more children receiving necessary interventions earlier. Suzi Wolf, Early Intervention Program Manager at KAC, shares, “Providing services before a child is school age is more effective and less costly because the developing brain is the most capable of change.” Is this an investment we can afford not to make?
How You Can Help
The success of this work depends on stakeholders of all shapes and sizes. Consider:
Established January 2017, the Building Our Future Leadership Table was formed to guide and advocate for the work of Building Our Future, which brings together all sectors in Kenosha County to improve student outcomes from cradle to career. High School students were engaged from the start of this work. With the support of school districts, three parents and students took a step and joined the team. Darian Lott was one of them.
Darian was born in Racine, Wisconsin. He attended the Head Start program in Racine and then attended Dresden Elementary until he moved to Kenosha, Darian started at Stoker Elementary, then finished Wilson Elementary. He then attended Bullen Middle and has recently graduated from Lakeview Tech.
“The poverties in education in certain areas was one of the biggest shocks from joining the Leadership Table,” he says about his experience. “But it’s good to see businesses and people in the community that are trying to help out the education and upbringing of the kids.”
Darian was approached by his principal at Lakeview asking if he would be interested in participating in Building Our Future. Darian saw this as an opportunity to share his story, his accomplishments, and connect with other students so they don’t feel as though they’re alone.
“I want to set an example of no matter what situation, neighborhood, or nationality anyone may be, they can succeed in life if they work hard for it,” he says. “If I had to share my story, it would be of how I, coming from a low income family and neighborhood, have been successful in school and in accomplishing my dreams.”
Darian, a recipient of the Tech Excellence Award and Gateway Promise, will be heading to Gateway for two years until he transfers to UW-Whitewater, where he plans to major in video game design and Computer numerical control (CNC) programming. Since he was a kid, Darian has wanted to become a video game designer, and the scholarships he’s received for all of his hard work are helping him get one step closer to that goal.
Why Join the Leadership Table?
“It’s important to have feedback from students in the community on how they grew up here and their stories in the areas they grew up in.”
For more information and how to get involved, go to http://www.buildingourfuturekc.org/get-involved.html.
Building Our Future’s newest network, Early Grade Reading, focuses specifically on third grade reading proficiency in Kenosha County. To those not intimately involved in education and social challenges, it may seem that third grade reading scores is randomly selected. It may also seem like third grade reading scores impact only elementary school teachers and not our wider community. However, research shows the huge implications this single data point can have on the wider economy, and dire third grade reading levels for some means ALL of us are held back from reaching our full potential.
A study commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that one in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, which is a rate four times greater than proficient readers. It’s estimated that students who do not graduate from high school cost society an additional $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity. They’re also more likely to be arrested or have a child while still a teenager, which both have additional financial and social costs. These costs trickle down to individual and corporate taxpayers.
Locally, third grade reading impacts the entire community. With Kenosha County being one of Wisconsin’s manufacturing hubs and a hotbed of investment, development, and innovation, the fact that, according to the Wisconsin state exam, only 45% of our third graders are reading proficiently could be a liability in future economic success. With unemployment at its lowest rate since 1999 at 3.9%, this leaves little room for employers to access new employees. Even though more people are moving to Kenosha County, this still leaves our current residents behind, particularly those families living in poverty. While 62% of third graders who are not economically disadvantaged are proficient readers, only 27% of students who are can read proficiently.
Imagine if 100% of students who are economically disadvantaged could read proficiently, and what this could do for their high school graduation rate, Kenosha County’s talent base, and ultimately, breaking the cycle of poverty. Imagine what benefits this would have for you as a taxpayer, as an employee or employer, and as a community member.
How You Can Help
Third grade reading levels don’t only improve with going to school. Anyone can be involved in this work. Consider:
Established January 2017, the Building Our Future Leadership Table was formed to guide and advocate for the work of Building Our Future. In an effort to hear from different parts of the Kenosha County community, Building Our Future engaged families from the onset. Madison Zapata is one of the three high school representatives from this year’s Table, and is being recognized for her work both in Building Our Future and in school.
Madison was born and raised here in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She attended Somers Elementary, Bullen Middle, and just recently graduated from Harborside Academy.
“I got involved with the Leadership Table mainly because of my best friend Kyle. Kyle has autism and after being recognized for helping him everyday in our government class, my principal then asked me if I wanted to be a part of this organization.” She says that being a part of this group has helped her learn more about the communities within Kenosha County and recognize the work done by our partners.
“I didn’t know how much our kids needed the help that they deserve. What everyone deserves.” Madison wants students to have an equal opportunity for the education that they need to succeed as well as more inclusion of all students at school from all different backgrounds.
Madison will be attending University of Wisconsin - Green Bay in the fall majoring in history and hopes to one day become a museum curator.
Why Join the Leadership Table?
"I recommend more students to get involved with the leadership table because it can really open your eyes to what goes on in our community, and it can give high school students achance to help the community give successful paths to younger students."
For more information and how to get involved, visit our "Get Involved" webpage.
Have a passion for reading? Do you love helping children? Looking for a way to get involved in the community? United Way of Kenosha County is looking for volunteers to help tutor children during the upcoming school year.
In the 2017-18 school year, the program at McKinley Elementary trained 80 volunteers to help 49 students. In all, 1,077 hours of volunteer tutoring helped students go up 150 reading levels. Currently, fewer than half of Kenosha County children are proficient in reading in third grade. This is an important milestone because, at third grade, children switch from learning to read to reading to learn—and those not proficient get left behind.
For the coming 2018-19 school year, the United Way of Kenosha County’s Readers are Leaders tutoring program is partnering with Kenosha Unified School District and Building Our Future to expand to three more schoolsーMcKinley Elementary, Wilson Elementary, Brass Elementary, and Forest Park Elementary.
The program hopes to have over 314 volunteers, about 78 per site, sign up for these locations. Building off of the success of previous years, United Way of Kenosha County will again expand the program in the 2019-20 school year.
How to get involved