Overcoming Challenges in Racine, Wisconsin

The same students who raised $5,000 last year for a Racine, Wisconsin food pantry sit with their lunch trays on their laps in the hallways and stairwells at Walden III middle and high school.

Walden students

Students from Racine’s Walden III middle and high school -- which includes its original Civil War-era construction -- pack-up trucks with food items they collected for the Racine County Food Pantry.

With every square foot converted to classroom use, there is no lunchroom in Walden, a school building that dates to around 1863. As one of the U.S. Department of Education’s 2011-2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellows, I had the opportunity to visit the school to learn about its infrastructure challenges with Assistant Secretary of Communications and Outreach Peter Cunningham and regional OCO staffer Julie Ewart earlier this month.

Space is not the only thing at a premium at Walden — so is heat. According to the teacher leading our tour, Walden’s antiquated boiler system creates temperature variations of up to 30 degrees from one room to the next in the winter. Yet, with great pride a senior girl describes how students raised funds to purchase insulation for a home adjacent to the school grounds. She talks about how shocked she and fellow classmates were when they learned their neighbor was shivering in an un-insulated house. The students saw a need and acted on it.

As we climbed the creaking steps to the second floor AP English classroom, we noticed that the orange carpeting on the upstairs hallway is buckled and ripped in many places, reinforcing the theme that this building is tired and in desperate need of renovation.

During the visit, we watched a short video highlighting philanthropic projects completed by Walden students. The video, shown on a newly installed SMARTBoard, drew its power from the only functioning electric outlet in this classroom. This single power source looks precarious at best; there are way too many cords running to other parts of the classroom from an auxiliary powerstrip.

Students at Walden are like children everywhere. They are resilient and resourceful. These students are committed to helping their community. Which leads me to the question–to what degree is the greater community, Racine and beyond, committed to helping them?

While students are achieving at Walden, they and their teachers need to overcome challenges of their historic but ancient facility that are barriers to learning — or worse, accidents waiting to happen — every day. The American Jobs Act, which would fund some of the long overdue renovations in Racine and across the country, could help provide the means necessary to overcome these challenges, and ultimately allow Walden students and teachers to focus on education and giving back to the community.

Leah Lechleiter-Luke

Leah Lechleiter-Luke is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches English and Spanish in Mauston, Wisconsin.


  1. My husband, who served 20 years in the Marine Corps, grew up in Racine, Wisconsin. Its an older area with older schools. My children have attend a total of 14 different schools. We moved often when on active duty and a few times since. The kids have been in schools in CA, AZ, Japan (on base) and VA. Students nationwide deserve decent school buildings but funds in all states are tight. Every school the boys attended had significant issues. I support the jobs act and hope funds truly flow for badly needed school renovations nationwide. Let the Bush temporary tax cuts expire….we obviously could not afford them. Those are not new tax increases, they were temporary cuts in good times. Those times are over. It’s a national disgrace that our schools are in such poor condition; those who could afford to assist live in affluent areas or send their children to private schools.

  2. American Jobs Act = Force Americans to pay against their will.

    Cities like Racine don’t have the funds to update the school so Washington is going to do it? Where will the money come from?

    Struggling taxpayers like the ones that live in Racine. That isn’t job creation.

    If Racine wanted a nicer school their citizens would of already paid for it. They can’t afford it. What part of that does Washington not understand?

    • The money can come from millionaires and billionaires who pay a smaller percentage of their income toward taxes than middle and lower class. They also have benefited from the fine educational system we have in the United States and perhaps owe a little bit back to this country for their largess.
      The American Jobs Act is no different than any other tax I pay against my will: ethanol subsidies, oil company tax breaks, Bush tax cuts for the millionaires and corporations, defense, and Bush’s medicare drug benefit that is/will cost this country trillions; it is a matter of priorities.
      We can spend our money more wisely (not continually give to the rich) by allowing at least another electrical outlet in our schools.
      Americans can afford things, it is a matter of determining our priorities. Why is simply having adequate buildings and facilities for our children to be educated in part of what YOU don’t understand, Eric?

      • “The American Jobs Act is no different than any other tax I pay against my will…”

        I understand YOUR statement perfectly Mark.

  3. Really glad to hear that you could help out in Racine. Still some work to be done but you will get there. Well done

Comments are closed.