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MPS teacher Erin Sivek is Wisconsin Global Educator of the Year

Erin SivekAsk Erin Sivek which languages are spoken by her current students, and the teacher at MPS’ International Newcomer Center might say, “Let me look at the class and listen.” And then she recites a remarkable list. 

This semester, she hears: 

  • Russian and Tuvan (also from Russia, north of Mongolia)

  • Dari and Pashto from Afghanistan 

  • Swahili, Kibembe, French, Lingala, Chichewa, Wolof, and Bemba, from Africa 

  • Malay, spoken in Malaysia and other countries 

  • Burmese, Rohingya, and Karen from Southeast Asia 

  • Spanish from Nicaragua 

Sivek, a teacher of English language arts and English as a second language, helps the speakers of those languages — young immigrants and refugees in grades 5 through 8 — learn English and go about life in America. For Sivek’s work, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction named her Global Educator of the Year for 2022-23.  

In choosing the winner, DPI considers how well the nominee cultivates students' global awareness and engagement; promotes global competencies beyond the classroom and includes colleagues and community members; inspires peers and others by modeling best practices in global education; takes innovative approaches to global education; and aligns teaching with the goals of Wisconsin's Global Education Achievement Certificate. 

Sivek received the award at the Milwaukee Public Schools UNSIL World Fair, a gathering of students from the district’s United Nations Schools of International Learning held in April at the UWM Panther Arena in downtown Milwaukee. When she learned her award would be presented at the fair, Sivek thought, “This is perfect. My students will be there.” 

Erin Sivek with studentsThe MPS Newcomer Center is housed in the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language (MACL), 2430 W. Wisconsin Avenue. A student who is new to the United States can attend the center for two years before making the transition to MACL or another school of their choice. 

Sivek works with the MPS School Community Partnership for Mental Health, Sebastian Family Services, and a school social worker to address the needs of students, some of whom have endured trauma in their journey to settlement.  

Sivek also ensures that students have the technology they need at home for their studies, securing Chromebooks for students and making certain they have mobile hotspots at home if they are without WiFi or are in temporary housing, as many who resettle are. 

New students have other needs that are addressed, such as learning how to take the bus to school, and obtaining clothing, hygiene supplies, and furniture through vouchers from Goodwill and solicited donations. 

Students’ school experience varies. For instance, some of the Afghan students Sivek taught last year had attended school before, but some had not.  

It’s rewarding to Sivek when her students can do something well that they never could do before. For first-time students, it might be writing their names; or, if they’d been in school previously, it might be writing sentences in English and eventually entire essays. 

Sivek, who grew up in Stevens Point, majored in English and minored in Spanish in college, graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2009. She was a student teacher at South Division High School, “an amazing experience,” she said. She began teaching bilingual and monolingual English full time for MPS in February 2010 at South Division, in the same classroom where she had been a student teacher. 

After Sivek’s first year, refugee students began arriving at the high school. Her skills with them were noticed, and she was offered the job at the International Newcomer Center. 

The experience is different from her time teaching at South Division. At first it was simply the age difference, Sivek said. Now, the situations of the students have changed. 

The refugees she knew at the high school level had fled Myanmar themselves. Now students are predominantly of Central and East African heritage and were born in refugee camps. Many of Sivek’s students this year are ethnic Congolese, arriving from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Zambia. 

Some have been waiting their whole lives to see which country they would settle in, Sivek observed. 

Change is constant. That’s why Sivek, who is pursuing her master’s degree in educational policy and leadership at Marquette University, frequently checks the web pages of the United Nations and UN High Commissioner for Refugees and avidly reads The New York Times and National Geographic. 

“It keeps me wanting to update myself with what’s happening in the world,” Sivek said, to see who might be coming to Milwaukee next and what kind of services they’ve received. 

Despite their different backgrounds, those in Sivek’s class find ways to relate. A student from Russia, seeing a new student from Malaysia in class, went to greet and help her, even though they had no language in common. The students automatically help each other, the teacher said; they remember being “the new kid,” and feeling scared and unsure. 

And Sivek greeted her new Rohingya students in their native language. “They feel a little safer, a little more comfortable, like, ‘You know about me,’” she said.  



Stephen Davis, Media Relations Manager
(414) 475-8675
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  • Ninety-four percent of 2022-23 budget dollars go to support schools;
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