The following story was written by UW-Madison's Karen Rivedal. Visit the Wisconsin Center for Education Research website to read the entire piece.
More than 200 high school students and their chaperones from 19 U.S. school districts will be in Madison from Wednesday through Saturday for the MSAN Student Conference, presented by the UW-Madison School of Education annually to develop student leaders dedicated to ending racial disparities in achievement and opportunity.
Hosted this year by the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, where students helped plan conference events, the gathering will take place mainly at the Madison Concourse Hotel but will feature guided tours of schools and colleges at UW-Madison on Thursday morning and a resource fair at Memorial Union that afternoon.
“We’re all looking forward to making new connections that further diverse student empowerment and help us launch change in our district,” said MHS senior Ashley Biwott, part of the District’s student planning team for the conference. Other team members include Diana Song and Matthew Thompson.
“We cannot wait to welcome students and educators from across the country to the greater Madison, Wisconsin area,” Superintendent Dana Monogue said. “We believe the conference agenda will afford attendees the opportunity to meet amazing people, learn from thought leaders in our field, visit one of our nation’s premier universities and enjoy time to learn, reflect, grow and be inspired.”
Among the sponsors of the event is the MCPASD Education Foundation.
Conference attendees include some of the brightest students of color from around the nation who are equity leaders in their high schools, MSAN Executive Director Madeline Hafner said. Together they will take part in a day of action planning on Friday, when they brainstorm and present projects designed to address disparities at their own schools, where many of the students hold leadership roles such as heading up a social justice group or the black student union.
“The action planning is the heart of what we want to support the kids in doing,” Hafner said. “Students get to talk and work with students from other districts around the ideas they have to create change and learn how they’ve done it. That’s one of the most powerful pieces: students seeing each other as change agents.”
The conference was last held in the Madison area when Verona hosted in 2015.
In the Madison area, an action plan from students in the Verona Area School District recently resulted in the planning of a county-wide MSAN conference. School districts in Sun Prairie and Madison also are MSAN members from Dane County, along with the MCPASD. Monogue expects to see similar big ideas emerge as a result of this year’s MSAN Student Conference.
“As we work together across states to raise the next generation of civic-minded, socially conscious and action-oriented change leaders, this conference will hopefully serve as a powerful catalyst for positive change, unity and hope,” she said.
Attendees will participate in campus tours of schools and colleges at UW-Madison on Thursday morning. The tours last about two hours, but also will seek to serve a larger purpose than just showing off the university’s academic offerings. Tour guides and resource fair organizers plan to highlight support services for students of color within colleges, such as the Wisconsin Black Engineering Student Society, or across the campus, such as the Multicultural Student Center or LGBT Resource Center.
“It’s all about exposure,” Hafner says. “We want students to see themselves on college campuses. We try to show them the resources that are available to them as racially diverse students on predominantly white campuses. We want to make sure, whether they come here or go somewhere else, that they know these resources are available.”
Other conference highlights include an opening keynote address on Wednesday from Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Milwaukee native whose election in November 2018 made him the first African-American to serve as lieutenant governor, as well as the second African-American ever to hold statewide office in Wisconsin.
Other keynote speakers will be José González, a teacher in the Tucson Unified School District and Xicanx Institute for Teaching and Organizing on Thursday night, and Bettina Love, an award-winning author and associate professor of educational theory and practice from the University of Georgia, on Friday. Love is regarded as one of the field’s most esteemed educational researchers in the areas of how anti-blackness operates in schools, as well as hip hop and urban education. Her work also covers how teachers and schools can work with parents and communities to develop equitable classrooms by building communal, civically engaged schools rooted in intersectional social justice.
This year’s conference, entitled “The Roses that Grew from Concrete,” after a similarly named poem by Tupac Shakur, also marks the 20th anniversary of MSAN, a project of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research in UW−Madison's School of Education.
Launched in 1999 in Evanston, Illinois, MSAN is structured as a national coalition of 26 racially diverse school districts in mid-sized cities or first-ring suburbs that are focused on understanding and eliminating gaps in opportunity and achievement that persist within their own schools. MSAN also does collaborative research and organizes two conferences annually: the student conference in the fall and an MSAN Institute for educators each spring. MSAN educators also meet three times per year in Chicago as “communities of practice” to learn in-depth about one MSAN district and share ideas.
An MSAN 20th anniversary celebration also will be held this year on Nov. 19 in Chicago, where attendees will revisit the organization’s history, theory of change and design principles.