What happens if young children from different cultures – who were perhaps not destined to see much of each other or even meet in America’s most segregated city – spend 10 years growing up together?
Elsie Crawford plans to find out.
Crawford is the founder of Repairing Together, a project of Milwaukee Jewish Day School that’s bringing four schools together. Participants are Milwaukee Jewish Day School in Whitefish Bay; the Indian Community School in Franklin; Milwaukee College Prep 38th Street Campus, which has a largely black student body; and Bruce Guadalupe Community School, 1028 9th St., which is largely Hispanic.
Simply put, the program brings the children together.
Repairing Together has partnered with non-profits to develop programs aimed at getting kids from different cultures to coalesce. At Arts@Large, 908 S. 5th St., Milwaukee, second-grade students were asked to walk while holding hands and showing emotion. A partnership with the Victory Garden Initiative had kids mixed in groups, working the land together at an urban farming plat in the Harambee neighborhood, west of Riverwest. This is a Repairing Together strategy: mixing the kids from two, three or all four of the schools in small groups.
At first, in 2016, Crawford’s project rolled out isolated visits, focusing on older middle school children as she established the program. Now, she’s turning her attention increasingly to younger children and a strategy of continuing connections involving the same students.
Her dream is to make other cultures “nothing new, as common as eating an ice cream,” she said.
“The younger you get the kids the bigger the impact,” said Crawford, former coordinator of Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Partnership2Gether program. “I think you have to catch them young. They can grow with the program.”
She foresees magic in having culturally disparate kids grow up together, all through elementary school and middle school. It’s possible programs could occur, say, four times per year for 10 grades, always with the same children.
Along the way, Crawford will be collecting data, so that the program might be proven and emulated elsewhere.
“I hope that the data shows that students feel more comfortable with each other and more interested in each other,” she said. “I’m waiting to see what happens after a few years.”
Early surveys and anecdotal evidence are promising, Crawford said, but it’s still early.
Indian Community School
At first Indian Community School Head of School Jason Dropik was reluctant to join the four-school initiative, but after seeing the program in action and joining as of the fall of 2018, he’s hooked.
“The one resource at the school we don’t have an abundance of is time,” said Dropik, whose school educates children K4 through eighth grade with ties to different tribes. “What I wanted to avoid was just doing another thing for the sake of doing another thing.”
He was concerned a one-off event wouldn’t produce much benefit, but he’s been impressed with Repairing Together’s same-students approach. He sees his students forming relationships, including hugs for Crawford from kindergarteners while she was in the school for an eighth-grade program.
For his students, who are well educated in Indian culture and often come from a set of close-knit families, he sees an important skill shored-up through the program. It’s a skill he said his students will need when they leave the Indian Community School after eighth grade: Being able to interact with people from outside their world.
Crawford visits with a class before it enters the program and explains, for their age level, what Repairing Together is all about: “We’re doing this because Milwaukee’s a very segregated city. You don’t see the other people who live here very often. If you’re part of the future you need to know who you are sharing it with.”
When Repairing Together started in the 2016-2017 academic year, it reached 80 children. By August of 2019, it’s expected to reach more than 500.