25 years in, Simpson Street Free Press continues to ‘spark academic achievement’

25 years in, Simpson Street Free Press continues to ‘spark academic achievement’
Via http://madisoncommons.org

This summer, Simpson Street Free Press is celebrating 25 years of efforts tackling Madison’s educational achievement gaps through its out-of-school literacy programs. Three assistant editors represented the organization at a Rotary Club of Madison South luncheon Monday, sharing SSFP’s plans for its 25th year.

SSFP is a literacy program based in South Madison dedicated to addressing the city’s educational disparities. Almost 300 students age 8 through 18 write and publish their own articles for six different newspapers, including two bilingual publications. Students also participate in book clubs, internships and writing workshops and even receive math and physics tutoring through the program.

The idea behind SSFP is based on the research-supported notion that what young students do during their out-of-school time is just as important to their education as in-school learning, explained SSFP assistant editor and UW-Madison senior Taylor Kilgore.

“National research tells us that out-of-school time is one of the best and fastest ways to end achievement gaps,” said Mckenna Kohlenberg, also anassistant editor.

SSFP’s award-winning curriculum includes a focus on clear and precise writing, close reading, invention strategies, drafting methods, word choice and revision techniques.

However, participating students learn more than just technical literacy skills. SSFP’s young reporters learn how to prepare for college. They also gain confidence and leadership skills as they work their way up through the organization’s ranks.

“Participating students gain academic confidence, the same way I gained academic confidence when I was an eighth-grader and worked my way through the program in high school,” Kilgore said. “We believe academic achievement can be, and is, for all students.”

SSFP will continue and strengthen its efforts toward equity in its 25th year.

With the help of a recent $50,000 grant from Afterschool Alliance and New York Life Foundation, SSFP will continue to focus its efforts on specific groups of middle school students, to help them through the critical years of middle school and high school. They also will engage experienced high schoolers as mentors and writing instructors.

“There’s nothing more inspiring for a middle school student than looking up to a high school student who is achieving. I remember when I was younger, I used to look up to Taylor all the time, and now I have younger students who are looking up to me,” said recent high school graduate and assistant editor Sarah Useche.

Fostering the program’s youth leadership program also will be a major goal for the 25th anniversary, Useche said.

The 25th anniversary project will expand the SSFP model in new ways and to new sites, including its sister programs in Beloit and Janesville, said Kohlenberg.

“We’re going to continue to do what we do best — we’re going to write, we’re going to publish, and we’re going to spark academic achievement,” said Kohlenberg.

Editor’s note: Simpson Street Free Press and Madison Commons are partners; each month MadisonCommons.org features an article from the publication.