Passing Notes: Themes from 2017 That Will (Likely) Continue into the New Year

Dec 22, 2017

Every few weeks, WUWM education reporter Rachel Morello flips through her notebook to give us the scoop on what's happening in local schools. This week, she went through her entire 2017 catalog to bring us student voices talking about some of the biggest themes of the year. 

2017 is coming to an end…but for students, it’s only the halfway mark.

After a short holiday break, kids in southeastern Wisconsin will return to class with a full semester ahead of them.

And several of the “themes” from 2017 are sure to carry over as they finish their school year.

What happens to undocumented students?
Fernanda Jimenez, an undocumented student in Racine
Credit Rachel Morello

Here’s one of the most shocking quotes I heard from a student in 2017 – it comes from Fernanda Jimenez, a senior at Racine’s Horlick High School…

“It’s scary that I worked so much to get where I’m at, or keep getting to where I want to be – and that one little thing that will just go away can tell me that all I thought would happen is just gone, and I can’t do what I want to do in my life.”

Fernanda is what she calls “DACA-mented” – she’s an undocumented immigrant, able to attend school in the United States under protections provided by the federal law known as “DACA” – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The Obama-era law protected undocumented children brought to the U.S. as minors from deportation, in addition to allowing them to study in American schools – and in many cases, stay in the country once they graduate.

"That one little thing that will just go away can tell me that all I thought would happen is just gone"

I say “protected” in past tense, because in September – after months of speculation and heated debate around immigration policies – President Donald Trump announced his administration’s plans to end DACA.

The plan is to phase the law out, over a period of six months – the grace period ends in March of 2018.

And that decision could have a serious impact on a number of immigrant students, like Fernanda. Barring any major changes or developments on the national scale, those students will no longer have DACA protections in just a few months.

We will be following what that means for students in Wisconsin schools, when that time comes. 

What should job training look like?

A dominant conversation among Wisconsin schools in 2017: how do we get students interested in technology?

Alexander and Demetrius – a pair of seniors at Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, a charter school on the city’s north side – claim the chance to work with technology is a driving reason that gets them pumped for school every day.

“What keeps me here is this will help me when I get to college, because I want to major in computer science,” Alexander says.

“I want to study mechanical and environmental engineering, which kind of relates back to the whole computer aspect of things,” Demetrius agrees.

MCA seniors KeyJuan and Demetrius are leaders in the school's Tech Ambassador program.
Credit Michelle Maternowski

Arguably the biggest story in Wisconsin this year was the state winning a contract with Foxconn.

The tech manufacturer chose Mount Pleasant to set up shop for its U.S. headquarters, and leaders say the plant could eventually employ up to 13,000 people.

Of course, educators here are thrilled, because that means the potential to keep our best and brightest in state. Many schools are already working to come up with initiatives and discuss best practices to develop Wisconsin students for those Foxconn jobs.

The program Alexander and Demetrius participate in at MCA – called “Tech Ambassadors” -- already existed before Foxconn announced its plans. But it’s a good example of a school program that’s training kids in tech skills and employability skills -- both things educators agree students will need, if they want to get these kinds of jobs.

Surely, we’ll see more of these types of initiatives – and hear more about how schools are working with Foxconn and other industries – in 2018.

How do we address gender dynamics?

Gender roles often come up in my conversations with students around Wisconsin.  

I talked about just that with Mary McDonald, a sophomore at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, during a camp session she attended at MATC. The focus: introducing kids to “non-traditional occupations” – jobs traditionally thought of as predominantly male (engineering, robotics) or female (nursing, education).

Credit Michelle Maternowski

The goal: break down gender stereotypes. Mary could think of quite a few examples from her own life…

“Guys like to joke around more!” Mary chuckled, clarifying “I mean, we get stuff done and they’re really helpful -- but with girls it’s easier to focus on the task at hand.”

Gender dynamics have taken center stage nationally in the last few months of 2017 – specifically as they relate to sexual harassment.

2017 saw a constant trickle of news about allegations of sexual misconduct, and the #MeToo movement. Time Magazine recently named their person of the year – the “silence breakers,” several of the women and men at the forefront of making their stories of sexual violence heard.

Needless to say, those conversations still dominate the news cycle as we head out of 2017. And I’ve heard many parents and educators say they’re having those conversations with their students, too – discussions about stereotypes and gender roles. And I’d expect this is a trend that will also continue in classrooms into 2018.

What's coming up?

It’s almost the new year! Enjoy your time off from class.

Over your break, I urge you to reflect on the first semester, look ahead to the second half of the year, and let me know what questions come to mind. What should I look into on Milwaukee’s education scene in 2018? Let me know in the module below.

Happy holidays!

Have a question about education you'd like Rachel to dig into? Submit below.