+
Most Shared

We all need more principals like Maurice Thomas.

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

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.

via Chewy

Adorable Dexter and his new chew toy. Thanks Chewy Claus.

True

Every holiday season, millions of kids send letters asking for everything from a new bike to a pony. Some even make altruistic requests such as peace on Earth or helping struggling families around the holidays.

But wouldn’t the holiday season be even more magical if our pets had their wishes granted, too? That’s why Chewy Claus is stepping up to spread holiday cheer to America’s pets.

Does your dog dream of a month’s supply of treats or chew toys? Would your cat love a new tree complete with a stylish condo? How about giving your betta fish some fresh decor that’ll really tie its tank together?

Or do your pets need something more than mere creature comforts such as life-saving surgery?

Keep ReadingShow less
Photo by Jeremy Wong on Unsplash

Teen raises $186,000 to help Walmart worker retire.

In America, many people have to work well past the age of retirement to make ends meet. While some of these people choose to work past retirement age because it keeps them active, some older people, like Nola Carpenter, 81, work out of necessity.

Carpenter has been working at Walmart for 20 years, way beyond most people's retirement age just so that she can afford to continue to pay her mortgage. When 19-year-old Devan Bonagura saw the woman looking tired in the break room of the store, he posted a video to his TikTok of Carpenter with a text overlay that said, "Life shouldn't b this hard..." complete with a sad face emoji.

In the video, Carpenter is sitting at a small table looking down and appearing to be exhausted. The caption of the video reads ":/ I feel bad." Turns out, a lot of other people did too, and encouraged the teen to start a GoFundMe, which has since completed.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

US players comforting Iranian opponents after their World Cup match is humanity at its best

The politically charged match ended with several beautiful displays of genuine human connection.

US and Iranian players embrace after World Cup match-up.

The lead-up to the 2022 World Cup match between the U.S. and Iran was filled with anticipation, as the teams battled for a spot in the final 16 and long-running tensions between the two nations on the political stage rose to the surface.

The Iranian team had some internal tensions of its own to deal with as players navigated the spotlight amid human rights protests in their home country and rigid expectations of their government. According to CNN, after refusing to sing the national anthem before its match against England on November 21, the Iranian team was reportedly called into a meeting with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and told that their families would face “violence and torture” if they did not sing the anthem or engaged in any other form of protest.

Hence, before the match against the U.S., the players were shown somberly singing the anthem. Then they got down to the business they were there for—trying to win (or at least tie) a soccer match to advance to the World Cup round of 16.

It was an exciting game, with the U.S. ultimately winning 1-0. But in the end, all of the intense competition and political tensions were superseded by some truly heartwarming acts of good sportsmanship and human kindness.

Keep ReadingShow less

Philadelphia is taking the city back to the past.

Remember when calling your parents, a tow truck or a friend when you were out and about meant digging in your pocket for a quarter to make a pay phone call? Well, a Philadelphia-based collective, PhilTel, is jumping into the past with a modern twist, by installing free-to-use pay phones throughout the city.

Of course, the pay phones that many of us grew up were removed from public places years ago. There no longer seemed to be a need for them when most people had a phone in their pocket or in their hand. But it's easy to forget that not everyone has or wants that luxury. For some people, staying that connected all the time can be too much and for others, it's simply financially impossible to own a cell phone.

Keep ReadingShow less
Photo by Jaleel Akbash on Unsplash

Japanese soccer fans explain why they clean the stadium after a match.

Japanese fans at the World Cup tournament have been receiving praise for their admirable habit of cleaning up the stadium after their team's matches. It's commonplace to see Japanese fans, blue garbage sacks in hand, hanging back after the game to pick up the trash everyone has left behind in the stadium.

It's not the first time Japanese cleanliness has made headlines. Some schools in Japan don't even hire janitorial staff, as the students clean their schools themselves. Other than in specific educational programs such as Montessori (where practical skills and habits like cleaning and organizing the environment are incorporated into the pedagogy), that idea is practically unheard of in the U.S. But watching the Japanese fans picking up after a game, the automatic assumption that someone else is going to clean up after us feels like a mistake.

So what is it that compels Japanese fans to clean the stadium at the World Cup, despite the fact that there are people hired to do it already?

It generally comes down to one word: "atarimae."

Keep ReadingShow less