Milwaukee Collegiate Academy set out to empower our students’ voice and agency in the learning process in order to increase college motivation and persistence

Students explore science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts using a hands-on approach and utilizing on-line research skills they have learned that help them pursue information to gain a deeper perspective and understanding.
"I really appreciate that MCA provides me with a computer. My laptop helps me stay organized and I am able to do research and stay connected with my teachers.” —Jacylnn Hayward-Sawyer, 9th-grade student

The objective of implementing the Summit Personalized Learning instructional approach was to directly address the reasons within our control that contribute to far too many of our alumni leaving college before graduation--the lack of experience and, therefore confidence, needed to persist through difficult content, to set goals and follow action steps to achieve those goals, and to seek help from experienced others.

Our personalized learning model develops students’ cognitive skills, enabling them to: deconstruct unfamiliar and complex content, independently seek out resources to fix up their understanding, and advocate with instructors or mentors to have their learning needs met.

This innovative instructional approach has transformed our student culture for learning by creating authentically student-driven learning communities where students own their learning, actively assist classmates in the learning process, and attend school over 90% of the time.

Learn more about Personalized Learning at MCA

Teachers or other school leaders act as mentors to our students and celebrate when they achieve their goals.

The extraordinary support of our community partners and donors has enabled MCA to implement with fidelity all the key features of the model:

“I enjoyed Mr. Butler’s poetry class because I learned how to reflect and express my feelings through poetry and was able to see my life in a new way.” —Makaiyah Miller, MCA 9th-grade student
  • Weekly spoken word facilitated by Ajamou Butler, a poet, community activist and founder of Heal the Hood in Milwaukee, and dance classes taught by the Signature Dance Company. These offerings developed students’ artistic identities and empowered an untapped form of self-expression;
  • 1:1 technology so that students could access print and media instructional resources aligned to their learning styles;
  • Weekly mentoring with a teacher or other school leader who guided them in the habit of monitoring their grades, setting goals, following strategic actions to achieve their goals and celebrating when they achieved them;
"I loved participating in MCA’s African Dance Class. It was a new experience for me that helped get me in touch with my African spirit.” —Danny Hunt, MCA 9th-grade student
  • Twice as many college tours as we have ever been able to offer a freshman class including visits to Ripon College, Marquette University, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Carroll College, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Alverno College, Carroll University, Mount Mary University, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and University of Wisconsin-Madison and;
  • Four, week-long expeditions in culture, career and college experiences that took our students to Milwaukee’s museums, connected our students to Wisconsin’s network of college campuses and their admissions representatives and engaged working professionals to teach students about their careers.

These experiences expanded opportunities for our students, removed the perceived boundaries that confine so many of our students to their neighborhoods and prevents them from exploring and participating in the cultural life of our city. Our students were inspired to see themselves as future college students capable of going to and through college.

Students visited Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Conservatory during week-long Expeditions in culture, career and college experiences.

The power of words

Ajamou Butler’s spoken word class made an impact on students’ growing sense of self-awareness and willingness to release the trauma they had experienced through poetry was an influence that was needed by all of our students.

“I teach the freshmen to tell a story, and more importantly, I want them to make sense of what is going on around them, to challenge themselves to tap into their gifts and share their thoughts and feelings.” —Ajamou Butler, Heal the Hood

One of our teachers asked to collaborate with Mr. Butler for a second day every week to host a 90-minute young men’s mentoring group with the goal of providing our young men with adult male guidance and opportunities to process their feelings of hopelessness and anger.

The male mentoring group then spawned a female mentoring group, called Black Girl Magic, and led by one of our teachers and colleague of Mr. Butler’s, Lilo Allen the poet.

Learn more about impact Mr. Butler’s spoken word class has made for our students

A student explains what it takes to have a career in engineering during 9th-Grade Career Week at MCA in April of 2017.

“Even though we know how important field trips are, educators often lose sight of learning that can happen outside of the classroom as we strive to catch kids up academically. A generous grant from The Roberts Family Foundation allowed us to execute four expedition weeks that were centered around college, community organizations, and corporate businesses that helped our students expand their world. The experiences our students had outside the classroom motivated many of them more than, perhaps, any classroom activity could have.” —Courtney Steggall, MCA 9th-grade Modern World History Teacher

Connecting scholars to culture, career and college

  • Culture: Milwaukee Art Museum to teach students the stories of great art and how to view art to uncover its story. Discovery World including learning labs that gave our students opportunities to dissect various insects, rodents, amphibians, and small animals.
  • Career: Job shadowing and tours of Briggs and Stratton, engineering firm, Johnson Controls, a diversified technology and multi-industrial leader in automotive technology, Milwaukee Dome for Architectural Sciences, General Electric engineering firm, and small group workshops led by local artisans and entrepreneurs including improv artists, D-Jays, music producers, local performers and business owners.
  • College Tours: Alverno College, Carroll University, Marquette University, Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, Milwaukee School of Engineering, , Mount Mary University, Ripon College, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and University of Wisconsin-Madison, and UW-Platteville
  • Many of our sophomores and juniors were able to join these tours, thus increasing their motivation and aspirations for college.
  • Demystifying the ACT for our 9th grade students through focused strategy instruction facilitated by teachers in advisory and by purchasing Method Test Prep, an online, personalized test program. We were also able to offer more strategy focused ACT preparation classes to 10th grade and intensive ACT preparation for our 11th grade students.
  • Provide 9th grade teacher team common planning time to engage in rigorous collegial scoring and analysis of student work, debrief peer classroom observations, and conduct interdisciplinary planning. To that end, the Team designed daily STEM learning tasks through fun, yet educational, team challenges.

The trickle up effect

Teachers in 10th through 12th-grades saw the impact of the weekly electives on the 9th grade students’ excitement about school and advocated for a time in the middle of the day in which they would teach all students about their passions and personal hobbies.

11th-grade students participated in a guitar class which was one of the many mini-block classes added this year.

Called “mini-blocks”, teachers led the following experiences, that had never been offered before, year-round: Guitar, Yearbook, Yoga, Running Club, Personal Fitness, Percussion, Creative Performance, Theater, Personal Finance, Board Games, and Chess.

Although our students traditionally do not stay after school to participate in extracurricular activities, mini-blocks gave students an after-school experience in the middle of the day. School attendance on mini-block days has been well-attended attendance days for all students.

How we measured success

“Typically, we like to expose our 9th grade scholars to two to three colleges during their first year of high school. Gifts, donations and grants made it possible for us to more than double the number of college trips we took with our freshmen this school year. It’s amazing the impact touring college campuses can have on the future of our kids. I’m so grateful for the support because it has truly enabled our 9th graders to explore college this year.” —Samantha Mewes, MCA College Coach and Counselor

By the numbers

MCA had a school growth index that averaged in the 90th percentile for the 2016-17 school year. That means, MCA’s average growth outperformed 90% of similar schools taking the NWEA MAP tests. In addition, 72% of students met at least two of their end-of-year goals in reading, language arts, or math and 97% met at least one of their end-of-year goals.

Source: https://www.nwea.org, MCA 9th grade data

Record High Attendance Rate

The 9th-grade's attendance rate was 94% for the entire school year—the best of all grades and the highest of any freshman class in MCA history.

A 9th-grade student leads a tour of educators from around the region who visited MCA to learn more about their innovative personalized learning program.

This year, there has been high interest in MCA from the community and other schools from across sectors—public, private, religious, affluent and rural. Visitors came from as far away as Minnesota and included government officials, college educators, and journalists.

WUWM reporter Rachel Morello visited MCA to see how this instructional model, usually reserved for accomplished students in affluent neighborhoods, was being implemented with low-income, African American students on the north side of Milwaukee—a city known to have the greatest achievement gap in the state and just blocks from the zip code that has the highest incarceration rate for Black men in the country.

Listen to Rachel Morello’s MCA story about MCA’s personalized learning program


MCA will expand the instructional model to 10th grade for the 2017-18 school year and add a grade level every year until our school fully immersed in this personalized learning model.

To sustain this model we have changed many elements of our school schedule to provide the time and we have redesigned our professional development to be more responsive of the skills our teachers need to provide intervention to more students. We have redistributed resources within our school budget to support 60% of the resources we need to replicate the program at the same level next year.

MCA is actively pursuing additional funding with our committed Board of Directors leading this process. However, as a City of Milwaukee public charter high school, state funding supports only 80% of MCA’s operating expenses when compared to a traditional Wisconsin public school. For our students to be successful, we rely on community support to ensure that our students have equitable access to technology, meaningful learning experiences outside of the classroom and the learning materials they need to be great.

Your support of an innovative instructional approach would not do justice to its actual impact. You can help us finish the story and transform our school and community.

The support of our community partners and donors has uplifted the academic engagement our 9th-grade students and the commitment and creativity of our 9th-grade teachers in a way that inspired all of sophomores, juniors, seniors and their teachers to give of themselves to create a student-centered, student-driven learning community that reflects the talents and dreams of all of us.

This school-wide transformation created a pathway for our community to play a meaningful role in the lives of our students and it has inspired other educators to think boldly about how to gradually release all elements of learning to their students.

Dr. Howard Fuller, MCA founder and Board Chair Emeritus, poses with students during one of MCA’s weekly celebrations of student achievement and character.

Every dollar you give to support Milwaukee Collegiate Academy has an impact that extends far beyond our school walls.

Our Partners

For more information, please contact:

Milwaukee Collegiate Academy • 4030 N. 29th Street • Milwaukee, WI 53129

www.milwaukeecollegiateacademy.org • (414) 873-4014


Judith Parker, Principal

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.