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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

'Design Your Future' Fellowship Asks Young People How To Improve Education For Black Male Students

Milwaukee Public Schools valedictorians and salutatorians
Emily Files
Milwaukee Public Schools valedictorians and salutatorians are recognized at a May 2019 school board meeting.

How can Milwaukee improve education for Black male youth? That’s the question Milwaukee Succeeds’ Youth Forward MKE initiative is trying to answer.

But instead of turning to adults in power, they’re asking the people most affected: students.

This summer, Milwaukee Succeeds recruited 60 youth ages 13-20 to participate in the “Design Your Future” fellowship. The fellows are working in groups to create proposals that reimagine education in Milwaukee.

In a roundtable discussion with WUWM, three of the fellows — Aniyah McDonald, Quision Harrel and Breanna Taylor — share their ideas.

"We decided that the mental health of Black men is one of the main issues, so we wanted to implement that into the curriculum," says Aniyah McDonald, a rising junior at Milwaukee Excellence charter school. "So they can have lesson plans for their mental health, topics like destigmatization of talking about your mental health, toxic masculinity and ways to just handle your mental health altogether."

Mental health is also the focus of Quision Harrell and Breanna Taylor's group proposal. Harrell is a recent graduate of Milwaukee Academy of Science charter school and Taylor is a recent graduate of Escuela Verde charter school.

Harrell says Black male students' mental health would be positively impacted if they were exposed to more opportunities that are not sports-related. He says, at his high school, basketball was the main focus for boys.

"So you've got all these boys with hoop dreams now, but in reality most of us wasn't really good at basketball." Harrell says. "Part of my proposal, I want it to be more like carpentry and people doing poetry, tap in outside of just sports. 'Cause we more than sports as Black men, we way more than sports."

Harrell says one of his favorite things to do now is stand-up poetry. "I feel like I was exposed to those opportunities too late," he says.

Angela Harris, a first grade teacher in MPS, serves as a mentor in the Design Your Future program.

"It's sad that a lot of them are having experiences where they don't feel they're getting all the the things that they need to enter into life successfully," Harris says. "One of the things that my group talked a lot about was this whole idea of not feeling like when they graduate from high school they're going to be ready for adulthood."

As a first grade teacher, Harris says she now plans to focus more of her instruction on practical skills and mental health, after hearing from the Design Your Future fellows.

"Working with high school students in particular helps me determine the things I need to focus on early in my scholars' experiences," she says.

Breanna Taylor, one of the fellows, says she hopes teachers learned to be adaptable during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that they'll implement student feedback into their instruction.

"A lot of teachers, not all of them, but they have the mindset of they're the ones teaching, so there's nothing they have to learn," Taylor explains.

The Design Your Future fellowship wraps up July 30. According to Milwaukee Succeeds, six youth groups will be awarded $10,000 each to implement their proposals.

Ubuntu Research and Evaluation and Equitable Systems Consultants were involved in the development of the Design Your Future program.

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter.
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