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Verona schools, UW host student leaders to address achievement gaps 

October 7, 2015

An estimated 250 student leaders from high schools across 10 states will come together Oct. 7-10 for the 16th annual Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN) Student Conference, hosted by the Verona Area School District and the University of Wisconsin–Madison at The Madison Concourse Hotel.

This year’s theme is “Exploring Deeper Roots: Expose Roots that Cause Racial Inequities, Embrace Roots of Who You Are, and Empower to Take Action.” A broad range of students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds will be encouraged to dig deeply into their own experiences for ideas on how to eliminate barriers to learning and create a more equitable educational environment for students of color.

“As a group of educators who are predominantly white and hold power, we have to defer to the students, who are already a majority, who will become our new leaders in the future,” says Madeline Hafner, executive director of MSAN. “One of MSAN’s core principles is that we always involve students in decision making and in creating answers to the problems that perplex us.”

MSAN, a project of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) in UW-Madison’s School of Education, is a national coalition of 28 multiracial, suburban-urban school districts dedicated to eliminating opportunity gaps in their respective schools. MSAN districts work to understand and change school practices and structures that keep racial achievement gaps in place by conducting research and sharing promising practices, policy analysis and professional development activities.

Hafner says the main purpose of the MSAN conference is for students to learn about the research behind racial inequity in education and then collaborate on action plans to take back to their districts.

“Many of the students already have meetings scheduled with school boards to present their action plans upon their return,” she explains. “So these are not pie-in-the-sky ideas. They are very doable within the next 365 days. We have already seen action plans by students from previous conferences take hold in their districts.”

Keynote speakers during the three-day event include respected educators and thought leaders from the African-American and Hispanic communities: Everett D. Mitchell, director of community relations at UW–Madison; Decoteau Irby, professor of educational policy studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Roberto Rivera, an award-winning artist and president of the Good Life Organization; and Alexander Gee Jr., founder and president of the Nehemiah Urban Leadership Institute.

Students also will have the opportunity to tour the UW–Madison campus. “It’s really to give them a flavor of what they can expect on campus, whatever college they attend, and to show them the social and academic resources they may need in college,” says Hafner.

Every year, a different school district within the MSAN network takes its turn hosting the student conference. This year, the Verona Area School District will do the honors. For more information on the conference, contact Madeline Hafner, 608-262-1665, madeline.hafner@wisc.edu; or Kelly Kloepping, Verona Area School District, 608-845-4337, kloeppik@verona.k12.wi.us.