Solving Madison’s racial academic achievement gap involves many more people, groups and agencies than just schools and the education community. Community programs and alternative education options are critical in narrowing the city’s academic achievement gap.
Going to college is easier if your parents went. However, students in the academic “middle” don’t always have this leg up. “These are the students who do just fine but often don’t come from a college going culture,” says Kate Brien, an AVID teacher at Madison East High School. “They might not even know that doing well means they could take honors or AP. If no one’s telling them that, they don’t know.”
Laura Friedman hit a rough patch when she ended a long-term relationship and lost her job a few years back. She had moved in with a friend and her 4-year-old son had developed some challenging behaviors. That’s when she learned about Madison’s Head Start program, a child care program and much more, that is offered free of charge to low-income families. She enrolled her son within a week, and he began receiving speech and language services immediately.
When students struggle in school, it doesn’t start all at once. Problems can arise at different ages for different children, so United Way of Dane County is working to help children from birth until graduation. The education branch of United Way began in 1995 prompted by the Schools of Hope civic journalism project. United Way works with multiple organizations including everything from the Schools of Hope tutoring program to the Madison school district itself. There are currently 120 individually funded programs.
Sometimes school just isn’t enough to provide the resources children need. Madison community organizations are helping these children succeed, each in its own way. Reach Out and Read relies on books to make a difference. The program collaborates with 116 clinics in Wisconsin. Children up to five years old receive a book during each well-child visit. The pediatrician then teaches the parents how to read with their children. But reading is only the first step.