Students at Ronald Wilson Reagan College Preparatory High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, were anxiously waiting for Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan to arrive when he walked through the doors on Tuesday, Sept. 11, as part of his Rethink School back-to-school tour. Brogan and other U.S. Department of Education leaders traveled to more than 40 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to highlight the Trump Administration’s key education initiatives.
Brogan was visiting Ronald Reagan Prep to learn about some of the innovative education approaches at the high school and to hear about its anti-bullying program, which is student led and student focused.
On the way to the library where Brogan sat down with students to talk about their anti-bullying program, he passed through hallways that came to life with stunning pieces of artwork by students. The school deems the arts critical to student growth and development—just as important as math, English and science.
Clearly, the group of students who were chatting with Brogan were proud of their school, a nationally recognized high school by U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek and the Washington Post. The school offers a comprehensive IB curriculum and is the only four-year full-IB high school in Milwaukee.
Despite their rigorous coursework and demanding schedules, these students take time to serve as leaders in the anti-bullying program. They want their school to be a safe, caring environment where students can focus on learning and take full advantage of educational opportunities that some of their friends don’t have.
During a roundtable, Brogan listened to students talk about the program and how it’s making a difference at their school. Called “Reagan Link Crew leaders,” juniors and seniors are paired with incoming freshmen the summer before the latter enter high school. The goal is to serve as mentors and partners—big brothers and big sisters—to help make the transition from middle school to high school easier for freshmen so they can focus on learning in a welcoming, non-threatening environment. The crew leaders even help freshmen study for tests and with homework.
Brogan praised students for their work to curb bullying at their school and for stepping up to take on such an important issue. He also gave them some words of advice. He warned them to be careful of what they put on social media and how their negative online posts could haunt them years later, especially in their careers.
It’s all about judgment,” Brogan said. “Bullying destroys lives. Look at the number of young people we have lost to suicide because of bullying.” Addressing social media, he said, “Once you hit ‘send,’ you can’t take back those words.”
Alanna Bielawski, a senior at Ronald Reagan Prep, said, “When kids are bullied, they can’t learn. They are pre-occupied with their safety. Their minds aren’t open to learning if they feel they aren’t in a safe environment.”
That message was echoed by students throughout discussions with Brogan, who was joined at the roundtable by Milwaukee Superintendent Keith Posley, Regional Superintendent Jennifer Smith, Principal Mike Roemer and other local and school educators.
One student said, “We are all connected, so we look for ways to get all kids involved in something here at school. We want freshmen to know that we care and that we are paying attention to them. If they start missing classes or school, we let them know that we miss seeing them. Knowing that someone is paying attention to you and genuinely wants you to succeed cuts down on feelings of isolation and bullying.”
Kudos to Ronald Reagan Prep for creating an inclusive environment where students are excelling in the classrooms and leading the charge to stop bullying.
Jo Ann Webb is a member of the press team at the U.S. Department of Education.
Note: This is a post in our #RethinkSchool series. The series features innovative schools and stories from students, parents and educators highlighting efforts across the United States to rethink school. The #RethinkSchool series presents examples of approaches schools, educators, families and others are using to rethink school in their individual and unique circumstances. Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The Department of Education does not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.