WHITEFISH BAY — After a Chicago-area school district saw two high-school suicides in November of 2018, Milwaukee Jewish Day School teacher Rona Wolfe’s kindergarten class sent them a letter.
“Dear Friends,” it said, in the sort of giant-size print you’d expect from a kindergarten class. “We heard you are feeling sad. We hope you feel better soon. Maybe one day we will meet you. We know we could help make you happy. You can be our new friends. We love you. Love, MJDS Junior Kindergarten.”
The result, on Feb. 22, was a road trip of Proviso Township High Schools District students to meet the MJDS kindergarteners who wrote them.
At first, the high school students filed out of their big yellow school bus and into Wolfe’s MJDS classroom somewhat stone-faced. They stood to the side, until Wolfe asked her class, “Should we go grab some new friends?”
Kindergarteners each approached a high school student and took a hand, leading them to the circle with their teacher. Suddenly, smiles were in abundance and the room was family. The mix of children and teens were Wolfe’s audience as she read a book. Then, she sent them off to different tables in the room to huddle on what their favorite sports, animals and ways to be kind are, among other favorites.
The day produced hugs and tears among staff, not just for the sweetness that can be produced by any pairing of teens and lil’ ones, but also because of where these kids come from – different worlds. Proviso students can come from diverse and economically challenged families, according to administrators, outside the experience of some students on Milwaukee’s North Shore.
The meeting was arranged with assistance from Repairing Together, an arm of Milwaukee Jewish Day School founded by Elsie Crawford. Though the meeting was not a program of Repairing Together, which usually focuses its work on bringing together different cultures of four schools – not including Proviso schools – the meeting was certainly in the spirit of the program. (See “Repairing Together asks, if different cultures grow up together, what happens?”)
After sharing that his favorite food is cheeseburger, and learning that a kindergartener’s great love is pizza, Chris Dixon, 18, said he hadn’t had a chance to interact with young children for a while. It was so nice to do.
“It’s definitely a different atmosphere for me because I am a Christian, but I love to learn,” said Dixon, a senior at Proviso West High School in Hillside, Illinois. “I learn every day.”
Students today are under so much pressure and administrators are looking for ways to provide relief, said Proviso Superintendent Dr. Jesse J. Rodriguez, who joined the trip to MJDS.
“Social and emotional learning and support systems are what we need,” he said, to “open the doors for them to feel good about themselves.”
“We believe that by doing this they are going to become dynamic citizens of a global society.”
Scroll down for more photos.