One group of eighth-graders from Hmong American Peace Academy (HAPA) studied the effects of California’s tough guns laws with the hope of curbing gun-related violence in Milwaukee.
Other students from the same social studies class worked to create a statewide curriculum that informs social media users about the harms of cyber bullying.
A third group aimed to develop year-round gardens through aquaponics, a process where waste produced by farmed fish supplies nutrients for plant growth, to provide affordable options to low-income Milwaukee residents.
Each group of four to five students shared its findings at the state showcase for Project Citizen, a national education program in which pupils propose a solution to a community problem to a panel of judges. They were among 10 teams from six elementary and middle schools at the competition held recently in Madison. A team from Riverview Elementary School in Silver Lake earned top honors for its presentation on eye examinations for infants at birth.
Though none of its teams came back the winner, HAPA, 4601 N. 84th St., definitely made an impression. Typically, no school sends more than two teams to the showcase. However, the three HAPA teams shined so much during their qualifying performances at the academy last month that judges decided they all should go to Madison. Judges included the school’s principal, MPS school board members and several Project Citizen evaluators at the state level.
“I am extremely proud of all of the hard work and dedication that the students have put into their projects,” said their social studies teacher, Michael Hanley, 25.
Jack Jarmes, the Project Citizen state coordinator and one of the judges, said judges labeled each of the three teams as “exceptional.”
“I thought they did a really nice job,” Jarmes said. “They really did their research.”
Hanley took over HAPA’s Project Citizen program upon arriving at the school two years ago. The Marquette University High School graduate earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Princeton University in 2013.
“My motivation to come back to Milwaukee was definitely to give back to the community that made college possible for me,” said Hanley, a Teach for America corps member.
HAPA appealed to Hanley because he said it treats “teaching like a service” and Project Citizen enables him to put his philosophy of having his students focus on everyday problems to the test.
Working on the project “really teaches them how to collaborate with people whose views might differ from their own,” he said.
One of his students, Kayli Vang, 14, said Hanley makes Project Citizen challenging, but fun. Another pupil, Kashia Her, 13, said Hanley is inspiring, a great teacher and very generous.
According to HAPA Principal Tracy Eastburn, Hanley is a “dedicated teacher” whose top priority is student learning.
“He is helping students understand and internalize the processes needed to create positive change in the society in which they live,” Eastburn said.
Hanley deflected praise to the students and their work. He said the effort would all be for nothing if students were not so invested in their projects and wanting to make a difference in their community.
“I could plan a project all I want, but if the students don’t take it and work at it, it is not going to go anywhere,” Hanley said.