By Karen Stokes
Schools across the country are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to Education Week’s website, four U.S. territories, 43 states and the District of Columbia have ordered or recommended school building closures for the rest of the academic year, affecting approximately 45.1 million public school students.
The MKE Fellows and the Milwaukee (WI) Chapter of the Links, Incorporated, are launching Five Pillars Tutoring, a collaborative-driven virtual learning project to aid Milwaukee Public School students whose education has been interrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The program officially began April 22 and will target elementary school students at Ralph H. Metcalfe School, 3400 W. North Ave., an MPS school that serves approximately 350 students from grades K4 through eighth.
“Five Pillars has two significant meanings, one, the MKE Fellows is built on five pillars: internship, mentorship, civic engagement, scholarship and professional development,” said John W. Daniels III, executive director of MKE Fellows.
He continued, “The second meaning is that there are many partners and it’s not just built on a three-legged table. It’s not just MPS, The Links or the MKE Fellows, it’s also the community and the families together that are making it happen.”
The MKE Fellows and the Milwaukee Links are responding immediately to fill an urgent need.
“Because we know that ‘summer slide’ normally causes students to fall backwards over the summer, we’ve committed to continue this program past the regular school year into the summer to make sure that the kids enter the fall prepared to learn. We want to make sure we don’t have a COVID-19 backslide in addition to a summer vacation backslide,” Daniels said. “When students return to school in the fall, on average it takes them about eight weeks to get back to their previous level of proficiency.
With kids being out of school since March, there’s a real challenge to keeping them academically engaged.”
MKE Fellows, established in 2012, is a powerful initiative offering support to academically talented African American young men in Wisconsin to ensure that they graduate from college prepared for career success.
The Links, Incorporated, organization of African American women founded in 1946 is devoted to strengthening African American communities through fund-raising, education, advocacy and volunteering.
The Milwaukee Links have worked with Metcalfe students and educators for over a decade. The Links and Milwaukee Fellows are working with a team that is developing the program and have worked in various areas of education.
“We were able to quickly look at what it means to help young people so we had people who worked at Boys and Girls Club and traditional school environments,” Daniels said. “We wanted to make sure we created a comprehensive program that allowed us to quickly meet the needs of those in this population.”
The program will provide Chromebooks, home Wi-Fi access and other technical support. The collaborative partners will design and execute the online curriculum in conjunction with MPS instructional oversight, additional student tutors from Marquette University’s School of Education and operational assistance from Riverwater Partners. While initial efforts will focus on students at Ralph H. Metcalfe School, additional schools could be added as the program grows.
“We’ve already been contacted by Holy Redeemer Christian Academy and they will be starting on Monday and there’s been other schools outside our area in Madison and other communities asking how we got this done, so we are creating a toolkit,” Daniels said. “We’re going to be providing that to all outside of our reach so the program can expand past here.”
“Continuation of educational services during this unprecedented challenge must be preserved and made easily accessible to our students and families at all costs,” stated Dr. Keith Posley, superintendent of MPS in a press release.
Posley added, “That community stakeholders like the MKE Fellows, the Milwaukee Links, Marquette University, Chasing the Dream Foundation and Riverwater Partners have eagerly stepped forward as educational supporters is a clear indication of the commitment these community partners understand to be our obligation to Milwaukee students. It is essential that the learning process continues while schools are closed. We welcome the vision and efforts of this response to community needs.”
Daniels said that funding sources have come from private foundations and companies such as Hank Aaron’s Chasing the Dream Foundation. Attorney John Daniels, Jr. has also done an amazing job reaching out to community partners.
Many community stakeholders including Green Bay Packers Super Bowl Superstars, James Jones and Dr. George Koonce, and baseball legend Larry Hisle, have endorsed Five Pillars Tutoring.