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We all need more principals like Maurice Thomas.

'Do you wanna change the world? Do you wanna go to college? Well that starts today.'

We all need more principals like Maurice Thomas.

The hottest hip-hop show in Milwaukee is not in an arena or underground club. It's held weekly in the hallway of a former elementary school.

But tickets are hard, err, impossible to come by unless you're a student at Milwaukee Excellence, a new charter school on the city's north side.

The headliner? Founder and principal Maurice Thomas.


GIF via Milwaukee Excellence/YouTube.

It's not easy to be a black kid in Wisconsin. That's why Maurice Thomas launched Milwaukee Excellence to serve kids in the city's urban core.

The graduation rate for black kids in Milwaukee Public Schools is just over 58%, a wide margin away from the overall graduation rate for the state, which sits at 88% — one of the highest in the nation.

The 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress showed eighth-grade reading scores for black kids in Wisconsin were the worst in any state and any ethnic group. That's tough data to overcome, but impossible is nothing.

Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Excellence Charter School.

Thomas, a Milwaukee native and former Teach for America Teacher of the Year, knows exactly what students of color in Milwaukee are up against. Now, his team of founding educators are in place to help the next generation of leaders step up to the challenge.

"​Do you wanna change the world? Do you wanna go to college?," he asked the students on the first day of school. "Well, that starts today."

Greater Milwaukee  is one of the most segregated regions in the country.

The difference in resources and outcomes for students just a few miles apart is stark.

Image by iStock.

Take for instance the 53217 zip code, home to Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, with an average household income of $95,965. Whitefish Bay High boasts an average ACT score of 25.75, one of the highest in the state. While just nine minutes away, at 24th and Hampton in the Milwaukee zip of 53209, the average household income is $33,119 and the average ACT at King International High School is 19.8.

Thomas wants to bring the resources, robust curriculum, and achievement to his home turf.

"That school is only nine minutes away from where we are. It's only nine minutes. We can close a nine-minute gap," Thomas said. "For us, it's about what does it take? How do we create the conditions to have the very best school in the state be in our neighborhood?"

That's why Milwaukee Excellence is not your average school.

The school day is longer. Students have double the reading and math time, including a daily block to work on computer science. They're served breakfast, lunch, and two healthy snacks.  They have recess and a physical activity period each day. There's daily time devoted to art, music, or chess. In their ninth grade year, Thomas hopes to take the entire class to South Africa. And since Milwaukee Excellence is a charter school, there's no tuition for parents and families to worry about.

This is not business as usual, and it can't be. The need is too great. The stakes are too high.

"We can have all those things here, in this place, and why not?" he said. "And it can be run by a black school leader, with black kids, and be the very best."

Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Excellence Charter School.

He knows the key to getting the job done is engagement. And that's where the rap comes in.

Every morning, after breakfast and 30 minutes of silent reading, the students and teachers gather in the hallway, grouped into their five advisories (sort of like homerooms) named after elite universities. There, Thomas delivers lessons on the school's core values (focus, integrity, respect, self-determination, and team), updates, and general announcements.

Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Excellence Charter School.

He started delivering the lessons and updates as a "traditional" principal would, but the messages weren't sticking for his 92 sixth-graders.

"I said, you know, I'm gonna put myself out there. We always encourage our students to raise their hand and be a risk-taker and speak loud and proud, and I'm gonna model for them what that means while shouting them out."

So Thomas started delivering Tuesday's words of advice in the form of an original hip-hop song. He incorporates their names, their teachers, and other Easter eggs to keep the kids' attention. Without fail, students are singing along by the end of each one.

And each week he delivers the Excellence Cup, an award that goes to the advisory with the most merits for making the right decisions. The traveling trophy comes complete with a Steve Urkel doll stuck on top, which is supposed to resemble Mr. Thomas.

Rapping, dancing, making fun of himself ... Thomas will do anything to engage and invest in his students.

And so far, it's working. Recently, the Excellence Cup went to the Howard Bison, an advisory with a group of boys that had a hard time adjusting to the rules and culture of their new school. But with the help of their teachers and Thomas, they're learning the ropes and boosting their confidence.

Each year, Milwaukee Excellence will add a grade, growing with the students. Maurice Thomas will grow too.

He's a young school leader, but he's buoyed by passion, talent, great colleagues, and a sense of purpose. It's the hardest thing he's done, but judging from the faces of his students, it's already worth it.

Can't get enough of Milwaukee Excellence? Sing along to Maurice Thomas' latest jam on homework.

Terence Power / TikTok

A video of a busker in Dublin, Ireland singing "You've Got a Friend in Me" to a young boy with autism is going viral because it's just so darn adorable. The video was filmed over a year ago by Terence Power, the co-host of the popular "Talking Bollox Podcast."

It was filmed before face masks were required, so you can see the boy's beautiful reaction to the song.

Power uploaded it to TikTok because he had just joined the platform and had no idea the number of lives it would touch. "The support on it is unbelievable. I posted it on my Instagram a while back and on Facebook and the support then was amazing," he told Dublin Live.

"But I recently made TikTok and said I'd share it on that and I'm so glad I did now!" he continued.

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True

We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

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