For more information, or to schedule an interview, contact:
Marcia Spector, Executive Director - Seeds of Health, Inc.
Seeds of Health Celebrates 15-year Partnership with Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC)
MILWAUKEE (December 7, 2020) At Seeds of Health Schools (SOH), relationships are at the heart of everything. These strong relationships start with the close connection SOH Executive Director Marcia Spector has with her staff, students, and families, and in the solid connections between school staff and students and families. These relationships make SOH schools a place where everyone feels like they belong, with student success being the underlying driving force. There is another relationship that SOH is celebrating this year - the partnership of Seeds of Health’s Tenor High School and Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). The year 2020 marked the 15th year of this partnership, whereby high school students at Tenor attend MATC classes their senior year, earning college credits for free.
The beginning of a partnership
This partnership began in 2005 when Dennis Conta of Conta and Associates, Inc., a management and consulting company, came to Spector with an idea. Conta wanted to provide an alternate path for the many young women and men who needed encouragement and guidance to pursue education and employment after high school. He realized there was a population of students who were unable or unwilling to view a traditional four- or five-year college education as the best way to enter the work force with adequate training and necessary skills. Spector liked the idea, so the two began discussing how the plan could work. Conta worked with MATC to develop the framework for the partnership between SOH and MATC, and Spector began envisioning how this idea could become a reality. The end goal was to create a program where Seeds of Health students could attend MATC while still in high school.
According to Conta, Tenor High School was the alternative path for such students. In close co-operation with the Milwaukee Area Technical College, Tenor has integrated its curriculum into various programs at MATC and for the past 15 years has provided Tenor graduates with both a Wisconsin certified high school diploma and a certificate from MATC, all the while encouraging graduates to pursue other one- and two-year degrees from the technical college.
A growing program
This idea grew into Tenor High School’s program, where students spend their first three years of high school preparing for their fourth year at MATC, taking college courses and even earning a certificate leading to work upon graduation. Today, Tenor has not one but two campuses (one on Jackson Street and the other on South 1st Street), offering even more students the opportunity to begin college while still in high school.
The program has grown and evolved over the years, thanks to the hard work and dedication of key SOH and MATC players working together. Guidance counselor Carol Pook, who has been with SOH since 2009, states that it is the synergistic relationship between the two institutions that helps create such a successful program. According to Pook, SOH and MATC worked through the inevitable growing pains of the program during the early years, when MATC partners wondered if Tenor High School students would be mature enough to handle MATC courses, if they’d behave, and if they’d arrive academically prepared for MATC classes. It turns out MATC was pleasantly surprised, as SOH students showed them from the beginning that they were serious about their education.
A recipe for success
The reason behind the initial success of the program is that students were being trained and groomed for future success at MATC while still at Tenor. Hence, students arrived on MATC campus knowing what was expected of them, equipped with tools to succeed in a college environment while still in high school. Tenor students started hearing a consistent message in 9th grade that would be repeated to them regularly through 12th grade: “Your goal is to go to college.” Students and families understood that the focus at Tenor would be to prepare students for college. With these high expectations in mind, students quickly adapted their academic efforts and personal behaviors. The result? SOH students impressed MATC instructors with their focus and dedication.
The program has grown and evolved over the years, both at Tenor and at MATC. At Tenor High School, Pook states that the English curriculum has focused intensely on the reading and writing skills that students will need in college. In addition, since a high percentage of SOH students come from bilingual families, the focus on writing skills helps students to get a firm grasp on language. Furthermore, students can test into higher level Spanish classes at MATC, freeing up space in their schedules to take humanities credits. The results of the strong SOH curriculum can be seen in the students’ ACT scores; after taking their ACT tests, students will often say, “Wow, we know how to do this - we’ve done it at Tenor.”
Pook says the relationship between SOH and MATC is guided by Erin Cherney, Manager of High School Relations at MATC. Cherney, along with MATC’s Nicole Johnson, work closely with SOH to program and prepare students for their time at MATC.
Student success story
But perhaps the greatest signs of the successful relationship between MATC and SOH is seen in the success stories of graduates. One such student is Isaiah Ortiz, a 2019 Tenor High School graduate who always had an interest in cars. Thanks to the Tenor/MATC opportunities, Ortiz earned his MATC Automotive Maintenance Technician Diploma and got a job at a car dealership upon graduation. He has plans to return to MATC to pursue an Electronic Engineering Technology degree and then transfer to MSOE to pursue an engineering degree. As Ortiz said, “Finishing high school and going to MATC all in my senior year helped me to plan my career.” Like Ortiz, countless other students have used their coursework at MATC as a springboard to career and additional educational opportunities. Tenor/MATC graduates have gone on to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money, allowing them to attend universities such as Alverno College, Cardinal Stritch University, Ferris State College, Mount Mary University, UW-Madison, and UW-Milwaukee, to name a few. Other students have gone on to receive two-year degrees from MATC, apprenticeship programs, or to join the military, and still others have gone directly into the workforce upon graduation.
A continuing tradition
After 15 years, Seeds of Health and MATC look forward to its partnership playing a role in the formation of many more success stories and are excited about the possibilities to positively impact the lives of Milwaukee area students. This year marked the opening of a second Tenor High School (on South 1st Street). At both Tenor High Schools, teachers and staff strive to create an experience where students are encouraged and guided as they prepare for life after high school. While this year has been challenging due to COVID-19, students still receive the same personal touch virtually that they would in person.
SOH has prioritized the hiring of teachers who truly want to interact with families and students on a personal level, which has proven to be a valuable quality to have in the shift from in-person to virtual learning. Whether instruction is delivered in-person or online, students know that when they choose Tenor High School, they will receive guidance and support to discover and pursue their unique career and educational paths later in life. Because students fully participate in MATC college classes while still in high school, students learn and believe that they can go on to do great things. Hope for the future is perhaps the biggest benefit of this 15-year (and counting) partnership. SOH and MATC look forward to the next 15 years and beyond.
About Seeds of Health, Inc.
Founded in 1983, Seeds of Health, Inc. is the only K4-12 charter school agency in the state of Wisconsin serving approximately 1,300 students in four high schools and a K4-8 elementary program. The five individual and unique education programs serve a broad range of student needs – from at-risk to the college bound. Seeds of Health is Milwaukee’s innovative “home grown” answer to imaginative, collaborative and cutting-edge education options, with the vision to positively impact the growth and development of urban children. For more information, please visit www.seedsofhealth.org.