Celebrating Real Success at the REAL Academy

I had the pleasure of meeting many of the students of South Milwaukee’s REAL Academy recently during their open house and graduation ceremony. What an impressive group of young adults — and what an impressive example of innovating to improve the lives of all students.

Indeed, this is a South Milwaukee success story. And these kids are too.

The REAL (Rocket Education for Alternative Learning) Academy offers an option for kids who may have been left behind in many districts.

Kids — those who need an alternative learning environment outside of the traditional high school — meet for three hours a day and get a lot out of that time. As instructor Joanna Rizzotto told me when I first learned about this effort several years ago …

The REAL Academy is an alternative learning environment that provides high need, at-risk and special education students equal access to education by addressing their barriers to success through a personalized educational program. The REAL Academy is a separate school within SMHS, resulting in a small classroom setting which allows for individual student attention and a strong community atmosphere. Everything we do is created around being a Productive Worker: Attendance & Punctuality, Organization, Task Completion, Taking Initiative, Enthusiasm, Self Esteem, and Self Management.

She added recently …

Most of our guests comment about how they can just “feel” what is different from our students. Our students understand what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how it can be applied in their lives outside of school. The majority of alternative programs utilize online learning and have a focus on obtaining credits. Our focus is on the overall well-being (regulation) of the child and addressing root causes (of disregulation) first. We are so grateful to be supported by our community.

Supported, and recognized for their good work.

Joanna and fellow REAL instructor Hallie Schmeling were recognized with a WISN Top Teacher Award last fall. More details here. From that story …

At the REAL Academy, Joanna says, “the focus is on the whole child and relationships.” She says her approach to teaching is “to be open, to respond and not react, to guide.”

“The unique thing,” Hallie says, “is that we really come from the space that instead of me being the teacher that is putting information into kids, we’re more about they have it in them, they have their passions, they have strengths, they have things that just need to be drawn out of them.”

Our community is better for it.

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