‘It takes a village’: East High parents organize to support students daily over lunch hour, dismissal

Antoinette Kendricks And Noelle Brusky
Antoinette Kendricks (left) and Noelle Brusky (right) at Madison East High School on November 12, 2021 (WISC-TV Photo)

MADISON, Wis. — Parents of students attending Madison East High School have organized over the past week to provide a visible support system for students in the wake of massive fights Monday and higher-than-normal behavioral incidents throughout the school year.

It started with a Facebook post from Antoinette Kendricks following multiple fights Monday that resulted in two students being cited and five in the hospital to be treated for pepper spray, after more than a dozen Madison police officers used pepper spray to break up the fights.

RELATED: ‘We don’t feel safe’: Fights at East High lead to students pepper sprayed, citations, and ambulances

She called on parents to step up and help organize for the students: enough was enough.

“My motto is it takes a village,” she told News 3 Now on Friday. “But also, the truth of the matter is: can’t no one control our kids the way we control our kids.”

Every day since Monday, parents have responded. With the help of her friend Noelle Brusky, who’d been talking with school officials about ways parents could help, they’ve used a private Facebook group of East High parents to help organize.

Now, they’re coordinating daily to ensure a dozen or so parents can be visible and present on school grounds over the lunch hour and when classes dismiss for the day. MMSD’s spokesperson Tim LeMonds estimates about 90% of behavioral incidents this year have been happening over the open lunch hour when students are able to leave the campus.

“It can be scary for all parents, but at the end of the day the kids need a safe environment to achieve their best, and we need to be their support system,” Brusky explained. “I think the more parents can get involved, the better.”

Kendricks has left her job as a program director for lunch every day this week since Monday during the students’ lunch hour. She’s been able to come back a couple of times for class dismissal as well.

“The teachers don’t get paid enough to deal with the behaviors that some of these children have. And we have noticed that the children sometimes respond better to the parents than they do with the staff and the police,” Kendricks explained. “So we wanted to see what can we do as parents to kind of come together and help make the situation better.”

RELATED: MMSD modifies East High School safety plans following student fights and citations

Some parents are helping coordinate and support behind the scenes; others who can leave their schedules and busy lives are coordinating to be sure they can be there during the day just like Kendricks and Brusky. They’ve been able to have 10-15 parents there over the lunch hour every day this week: walking the block, maintaining visibility in trouble areas, chatting with students, building relationships, and handing out snacks.

“We’re just kinda out here now engaging with the kids, letting them know who we are, trying to get smiles on their faces,” Kendricks explained. “We’re just trying to make it a positive experience for the kids because we don’t want them to feel like, ‘Oh, here’s someone else to jump down my throat.’ Because that’s ultimately not our goal.”

They’re supported by school officials, who were out with parents on Friday, including Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins.

“This has been powerful, to be honest with you,” Dr. Jenkins said. “I always say, if it’s a fire if you have a bucket of water, are you going to run to it or away from it? These parents brought the bucket of water.”

This week, MMSD released an updated safety plan for East High after about a third of the student body didn’t come to school due to security concerns and threats following the fights on Monday. They’re also planning to discuss school safety and community engagement at an upcoming school board meeting on Monday. (The exact number of incidents this school year isn’t known, as that data has not yet been returned to News 3 Now from the district’s record department.)

But a lot of that response involves the community, like this week’s efforts from parents.

“To have parents, the outpouring right now of support, has just been incredible for our district,” Dr. Jenkins said.