Kenosha Unified School District’s mission is “To provide excellent, challenging learning opportunities and experiences that prepare each student for success.” Thanks to this mission, we have much to celebrate in our hometown.
One of the biggest celebratory points is that we are the third largest district in the state of Wisconsin and have maintained the highest achievement scores among the five largest urban districts.
This is due to a myriad of factors and the efforts of many great individuals. Our talented educational leaders, teachers and support staff paired with the support of our families, clergy, law enforcement, local businesses, social services, city planners, mentors, tutors and others makes for an incredible network for our students. In addition, our stellar students would make any community proud.
Each school in our district is therefore entrusted with the challenge of working toward this mission. At Harborside, we use an educational approach that has grown in popularity over the past several years known as EL Education (formerly known as Expeditionary Learning). Frank, Wilson, Jane Vernon and Jefferson elementary schools also currently use this research-based approach.
EL Education was started nearly 30 years ago in the library of Harvard University by a group of dedicated educators who followed the guiding principles of Outward Bound and the original teachings of Kurt Hahn. Hahn, a German-born educator who was arrested during WWII for openly criticizing Hitler and the path his country was following during the war, left Germany and started a school on the coast of Scotland that emphasized strong character development, hard work and experiential learning. A parent at his school applied the same principles to create Outward Bound. Now, those same basic principles remain alive and well within KUSD’s EL schools.
As part of a national network of 160 EL Education schools, KUSD’s EL schools are characterized by their unique focus on three tiers of achievement. Powerful learning and student achievement is still the main goal. However, learning at EL schools is not only defined by test scores and grade point averages, we also strive to develop positive student character and soft skills, such as kindness, responsibility and a strong work ethic. As an example, Harborside Academy students receive two report cards per class — one for academics and one for character. The final tier of achievement within EL involves challenging students to create highquality products and presentations. In the end, students in our local EL schools are focusing on academics, developing positive character and learning to do the highest quality work possible.
Kenosha’s EL schools each adopted this model of instruction at different times and are therefore at various stages of implementation. Harborside, which opened in 2007 through a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant, was the first of these schools to adopt the model. Within a few years, Harborside was chosen by the leadership of EL to be the Midwest secondary mentor school for the organization. This means that Harborside regularly hosts visiting educators from various places in the region, and around the globe.
Just last year, Outward Bound Taiwan facilitated a program where I was able to travel overseas with a group of five tenth grade students. There, we presented at seven different schools in China and Taiwan. The goal of the trip was to help these schools see how Harborside is using highly-engaging teaching methodology to increase student engagement and achievement.
Whether your child attends Harborside Academy or any other school in KUSD, we believe our mission is alive and well. We may have many different approaches in KUSD, but we all have our students as the driving force behind our mission, vision and goals.
Bill Haithcock is principal of Harborside Academy.