Kindergarten students at Bruce-Guadalupe Community School (BGCS) begin their school days by talking about college. Following the Pledge of Allegiance and prior to the morning announcements, two of our youngsters will broadcast their dreams for the school: “When I go to college, I’m going to be a…”
The conversation, from the first minutes of our students’ academic careers and each day following, isn’t if I go to college—it’s when. This is a subtle piece of a much greater conversation within the United Community Center (UCC) and BGCS : How do we build a college culture?
957 students attend BGCS, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) charter school on Milwaukee’s south side, and over 80% of these students come from low-income families. While income disparities are often spoken of in the same sentence as the phrase “achievement gap,” we have a strict “no excuses” policy. We place high expectations on students and families in the areas of discipline, behavior, parental involvement, and academic progress.
We collaborate with organizations such as Schools That Can Milwaukee and look to educational efforts from the likes of Milwaukee Succeeds and the Leadership Academy for Character Education, and we shape our trajectory accordingly. BGCS puts an early emphasis on math and science and requires algebra in our eighth graders’ curriculum, since, as Marquette University President Mike Lovell stated, students who take algebra in eighth grade have an eighty percent chance of graduating post-secondary programs.
We have high expectations of our students and their families, and the results speak for themselves: in the 2011-2012 Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination (WKCE), our eighth grade students out-tested state averages in five out of five categories, Milwaukee Public Schools in five out of five categories, and the widely-esteemed Wauwatosa Public Schools in four out of five categories.
But our commitment to the well-being of our students doesn’t end when they graduate. UCC offers significant support to our alumni throughout high school including college preparatory work, workshops and activities for high school students, and over $100,000 in scholarship support for BGCS alumni attending private high schools in the fall 2012 semester. Precollege workshops include information regarding the college application process, financial information, and campus tours. From the onset of their involvement in UCC’s precollege programming, our students are working with college advisors and making plans for the next steps. 98% of BGCS alumni graduate high school, and 78% of last year’s alumni enrolled in two- or four-year higher education programs.
The dedication of our students, families, faculty, and staff have enabled Bruce-Guadalupe Community School to make going to college a reality for our students that participate in the college culture. There are no ifs for those with the dream and the dedication, there are only whens. UCC and BGCS focus those dreams and that dedication into our students’ futures, building bridges towards brighter tomorrows.