Learning Across Divides

Elementary and middle school students from central Milwaukee visit USM every week to get help with homework from their Upper School tutors. But who ends up learning the most is up for debate.

Every Wednesday afternoon, 30 elementary and middle school students from central Milwaukee hop on a bus for a 25-minute drive to University School of Milwaukee’s campus. The students are part of Our Next Generation’s (ONG) Outbound Learning program, which gives them the chance to work on homework with tutors in different environments and from different backgrounds. “University School is one of the favorite outbound spots for our kids,” said Sessie Agbley, ONG’s community partner coordinator. “They like that their tutors are closer in age to them and going through some of the same issues, like friendship building, academic challenges, etc. They can relate to each other.”

ONG has Outbound Learning locations throughout Milwaukee, including at Manpower, Milwaukee School of Engineering, and Congregation Shalom, but USM is its first and longest-running outbound program. The partnership was established in 2005 by Brian Pack, former Upper School science teacher, who believed it was important for ONG students come to USM’s campus. “Brian pushed for ONG kids to come here,” said Elizabeth Perry, Upper School counselor and psychology teacher. “Logistically, it saves time because their schools end earlier, so they can be driving while we are finishing our last period. But he also believed your surroundings can impact your work. Being surrounded by students in uniform, on our campus, adds a level of professionalism.” It also benefits ONG. “If our center holds 100 kids and 30 are gone for Outbound Learning, that leaves room for 30 more kids,” said Agbley.

At the conclusion of each academic year, ONG students participate in a public speaking project similar to USM’s “senior speech” tradition. “The experience of doing a public speech is an honored tradition here, and we wanted the ONG kids to do it too,” said Perry. “Having that outcome at the end of the year differentiates us from some of the other outbound experiences they might have.”

The program is popular with Upper School students. “When I initially signed up to be a tutor, I thought it would be a good way to complete my service hours,” said Kala Siddalingaiah ’21. “But it turned out to be so much more than that. We tutor the same people every week, so it’s a great way to build relationships and friendships. It’s something I plan on doing for all of my four years here, and I recommend it to all of my friends.”

The Outbound Learning program won a MANDI (Milwaukee Award for Neighborhood Development Innovation) Award in 2013, and Agbley commonly sees improvements in grades, confidence, and engagement in the ONG students who participate in the program. But it also benefits USM students. “It was easy to connect with my mentee, and we’ve learned a lot of things about each other,” said Maanya Shetty ’21. “When I explain concepts to her, it helps me to understand them better too.”

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