Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Two Milwaukee Public Schools teachers started the new school year as award winners. Robbin Luna, of Honey Creek Continuous Progress Charter School, and Jody Bauer, of the First Nations Studies College Access Program, are 2023 winners of the Neubauer Prize.
The teachers represent the span of a student’s time at MPS — Luna is an early-childhood teacher, while Bauer prepares high school students for graduation and postsecondary studies.
Each year, The Center for Urban Education Ministries awards the Neubauer Prize to 10 teachers for their excellence in supporting urban youth. The mission of Milwaukee-based CUEM is to “relentlessly strengthen urban education,” the center’s website says.
This year’s Neubauer Prize was awarded to 10 teachers in all, from schools in and around Milwaukee. Winners were notified in June and received a certificate and cash prize.
Bauer is the lead teacher in the First Nations College Access Program. She is in her fourth year working with the First Nations College Access Program. She’s been with MPS for 12 years.
“I always felt that educational equity was a priority in my career, and this was an opportunity to branch out” and deepen relationships with students, Bauer said.
Her method echoes the program’s method. “First Nations promotes a holistic approach to serving our students,” Bauer said. The intention is to meet students where they are and support them. “That’s a pretty cool position to be in,” she said.
Using the Expanding the Circle curriculum developed by the University of Minnesota, the program establishes support systems for Indigenous students in MPS. Teachers such as Bauer help students with practicing skill building and being successful in all their classes. They help students with goal setting for life after graduation, and with building and maintaining self-esteem. Students have access to tutoring and other resources.
The students are shown campuses, such as those of Marquette University, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to get a sense of the college experience. “My team also works on staying in routine contact at schools,” Bauer said, so that students accepted into college have further help with making the transition.
Bauer, who grew up in a rural area, said she sought emotional support from teachers when she was a child — something not all teachers were equipped to handle.
In her role now, she sees students weekly and builds relationships with them. Her focus is to “always put the person first, always lead from a lens of love.” She wants her students to know “they have adults they can rely on in ways they might not have outside school.”
“I feel very, very honored in the ways kids are able to open up to me now,” Bauer said.
Excitement for learning
Luna, a teacher with MPS for 23 years and at Honey Creek for six years, said she loves teaching 4-year-old kindergarten “because everything is brand new to them. I want them to find their excitement for learning.”
“Academics come more naturally when they are excited to learn and motivated,” Luna noted.
Luna remembers her interest in becoming a kindergarten teacher beginning when she was in kindergarten herself; she watched her teacher reading a story to the class and thinking, “I can do that… if only I knew how to read.”
An aunt of hers was Luna’s main mentor; Doris Ridder was a 3rd-grade teacher at what was Dover Street School. “I often visited her classroom, and she was always answering my many questions,” Luna said.
Luna includes music, dance, nature, writing, and art in her instruction. The children learn everything from the alphabet, math skills, and identifying plants and animals to practicing sharing, taking turns, and kindness.
“We do this through so many hands-on projects, and time to play and pretend. When children have time to play with the skills that they have learned… they have time to think about what they have just learned and apply it in a way they can learn the best,” Luna said.
She has her students practice how to help each other, too. “Our class truly becomes a family every year,” Luna said.
In her own family, education as a career is a thread that runs through three generations. Luna has a photo of herself with her aunt, the MPS teacher who mentored her, and her daughter Alaina, who plans to become a teacher when she grows up.