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

'Morning Motivation' Sessions Excite Milwaukee Students About Learning

Rachel Morello
Stellar Collegiate principal Melissa McGonegle leads students and staff in their daily "morning motivation" session.

For kids, the school day has traditionally started with homeroom or morning announcements. But a few Milwaukee schools are trying something different: they call it “morning motivation.”

Credit Rachel Morello
Stellar students cheer along during a recent morning session.

The goal at Stellar Collegiate, a brand-new charter school on the city’s south side, is to turn every student into a “morning person.”

Every morning before class, teachers and students gather in the cafeteria for what essentially looks sort of like a pep rally. They incorporate music, dance and cheers, all focused on a particular theme– such as respect, integrity or hard work. The goal is to pump kids up to learn, and rally them around the day’s concept.

Today the focus is tenacity. The kids are belting out a song about attacking challenges head on. It’s called “Roar” – and roar, they certainly do.

Principal Melissa McGonegle says these assemblies help staff and students focus their intentions for the day ahead.

"As soon as you walk into a school building, the culture is palpable -- how adults interact with students, how invested students are in learning."

“We want our students to be excited and motivated about coming to school every morning,” she says. “In order for us to achieve our academic goals, we also have to achieve our social-emotional goals. It’s undeniable positivity, and that has a huge impact on the way we start our day.”

Stellar isn’t the only Milwaukee school employing this tactic as part of its schedule.

A few miles to the north, students at Milwaukee College Prep’s Lloyd Street campus ­run through their own set of chants each morning. Kids sit in rows on the gym floor, with their classmates. Different staff members lead the meetings each day of the week – and each incorporates his or her own activities.

On “Shout-Out Thursdays,” Principal Mark Ketterhagen invites kids to the center of the pack to highlight their classmates’ accomplishments over the past few days.

Credit Rachel Morello
MCP Lloyd Street principal Mark Ketterhagen leads "Shout Out Thursdays" with his students.

Kids and adults alike have grown to appreciate the daily routine of morning meetings.

“It gets us energized for the day!” says second grade teacher Grace Brielmaier. “It just starts our day with energy, and love and joy. And then we come into the classroom, and we get started and we’re ready to work right after.”

If the goal is student success, are these motivation sessions working?

That’s more or less a judgment call, according to Stellar’s Melissa McGonegle.

Credit Rachel Morello
Students sit in rows leading up to their morning sessions at MCP Lloyd Street.

“How can we quantify what integrity looks like for a four-year-old? Lot more challenging than whether or not they have all their math standards mastered,” she explains.

McGonegle leaves it up to individual teachers to gauge how well students are grasping the concepts and translating them to classroom work.

K5 teacher Arvi Kaur says she tries to work the key words from the morning sessions into her daily lessons.

“[For example] I know last month was tenacity. And as we would go upstairs and I would do my reading groups -- reading is hard for little ones, they’re learning to read,” Kaur explains. “I’m constantly saying to them, ‘remember, we’re learning about tenacity! That means you don’t give up!’ and they’re like, ‘oh yeah! I’m going to be tenacious!’ and they’ll keep going.”

Milwaukee schools face pressure to hit a multitude of educational marks. Schools want to close achievement gaps, and improve attendance. While “morning motivations” certainly reinforce those goals, they’re also an opportunity to forget about pressure – and simply get the day started on an upbeat note.

It’s an energy that excites teacher Arvi Kaur.

“As soon as you walk into a school building, the culture is palpable -- how adults interact with students, how invested students are in learning,” Kaur says. “Anyone that comes into our building can right away see the energy in the building, that we’re achieving great results for our students and for Milwaukee.”

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