Wisconsin made headlines this year for racial equity, and not in a good way.
In two separate 2020 research studies, Wisconsin’s educational system was ranked dead last for racial equity among all 50 states.
The surveys used a six metric system and a 100 point scale to measure the gap between white students and students of color. With 100 being the most equitable, Wisconsin scored a 13.44.
Making a change
Earlier this month, the McFarland School District was awarded a $1 million grant to support diversity and racial disparity initiatives.
The grant, which was awarded by The University of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP), will be put toward supporting the social and emotional health of Black K-12 students in McFarland.
While McFarland has consistently ranked high academically in comparison to other area districts, a closer look reveals a much grimmer reality.
Compared to their white counterparts, McFarland’s African-American students are not meeting essential health and educational benchmarks.
McFarland School District officials said the grant money will be used to close this racial gap by funding an expansion of the district’s Natural Circles of Support program (NCOS).
The district kicked off its NCOS program in 2017, with mentoring circles set up by the McFarland High School Black Student Union. The circles served as a safe space for students of color to share their experiences and work towards a more inclusive school environment.
Over the last three years, the program grew into a cross-functional collaboration between McFarland students and staff to improve the school’s climate and culture around issues of race.
District officials said their expansion of the NCOS program will be, “in close partnership with students, school leaders, teachers, and families to change the conditions that perpetuate racial disparities and create a learning environment that ensures equity.”
In an Oct. 16 news release, a spokesperson from the district said that the project, “will work to increase engagement and belonging, expand equity and improve teacher support and relationships with Black students to create conditions that support all students’ ability to reach their full potential.”
McFarland Superintendent Andrew Briddell is hopeful that the grant will help in the district’s effort to make tangible change and uphold their motto of Spartan Strong.
“On behalf of McFarland School District, I am incredibly grateful to the Wisconsin Partnership Program for their support of the work we are doing to ensure that all of our students have an environment of challenges, support, and respect,” Briddell said.
The McFarland School District is one of six organizations awarded a community impact grant from WPP this year.
Amy Kind (MD, PhD), chair of WPP’s Oversight and Advisory Committee, said award recipients were chosen based on their intent to address and acknowledge the correlation between societal/mental well-being and racial equality.
“The award recipients address issues that are key to our societal well-being: health disparities, including those directly worsened by COVID-19, and the impact of racism on health,” Kind said. “By addressing the building blocks of health, including social connection, employment, economic stability and access to care, these initiatives have the potential to forge new and innovative paths that dismantle barriers to achieving health.”
The grant money will be spaced out over a period of five years, but district officials are hopeful that its impact will last for generations.