Diana Shinall’s innovative Madison Apprenticeship Program (MAP), a 12-week life skills course where people learn conflict resolution, soft job skills, language arts and money management, has proven to be a successful program in the Allied Drive area over the years. The magic of MAP was creating an environment where peers could both hold each other accountable and support each other in really healthy ways.

Shinall has replicated some of the key concepts and experiences on the north side of Madison with a new education, employment and training program, Ready, Set, Go!, part of the Northside Early Childhood Zone which provides voluntary home visiting services focusing on positive parenting, the healthy growth and development of children, family emotional wellness and family stability.

This Saturday, Dec. 1, the students of the Ready, Set, Go! program will be celebrating the first graduating class. Dr. Martha Stacker, division administrator for Dane County’s Division of Children Youth & Families, will be offering the keynote address at the 1st annual Ready, Set, Go! Graduation Ceremony at 1 p.m. at Lakeview Church on Madison’s north side.

“We are so excited to have Martha Stacker. She is just wonderful and I’m sure she will have some very inspirational words,” Shinall, the Ready Set Go! coordinator, tells Madison365. Dr. Stacker is the first African American to head Dane County Human Services Division of Children, Youth & Families and has a doctorate in human services with a specialization in social and community services.

“This is a historical moment for the northside to have this employment training program that’s a continuum of what’s happening in the Northside Early Childhood Zone (NECZ),” Shinall adds. “This is the very first class and they will be graduating on Saturday. They’ve completed the six weeks and will be merging into life to do some different things from where they’ve come from in the past.”

Northside Ready Set Go! Coordinator Diana Shinall (center) at the Northside Early Childhood Zone open house, where the new program was named.
(Photo courtesy Northside News)

The Northside Early Childhood Zone, which serves pregnant people and children ages birth to four, was built upon the experiences of other childhood zones that exist throughout the country. Back in August, they hosted a party that also doubled as a Naming Ceremony where Ready, Set, Go! was born. This new employment and training program was open to all northside adults and really focuses on the tools to be successful for the long-term in the workplace – like communication skills, goal-setting, confidence-building and conflict resolution.

“The students really felt like with this program, ‘Hey, this is good for me. This is something I needed to do.’ They said that they really appreciated the opportunity to be able to work in an area that they felt not judged and that they were able to open up and heal some wounds that have been there for many years and now have this sense of hope that they can move forward and can do some things differently in their lives,” Shinall says.

“The students have been meeting twice a week since early October. The last day was on last Tuesday,” Shinall adds. “We really focus on the self-esteem aspect. We talk about what things have caused delays in your life. I’d often ask them, “This is where you are at right now – where do you see yourself in a year, in three years, in five years.’ When they start to look at that, they start to see some of their barriers. We really work on helping them remove those barriers to help them reach their goals.”

Members of the Northside Early Child Zone team: (L-r) Sheena Jacobi Buerger, Leslie McAllister, Diana Shinall, Katie Danielson, and Sally Karch.

At each class, RSG provides childcare for the children of the students and dinner for everybody.

“We had so many great volunteers from the community that helped us and worked with the children in the childcare area,” Shinall says. “They helped to really make this program smooth and successful. We had about 14 volunteers and some of them came every night and some rotated. They were incredible and they really grew connected to the kids.”

Ready, Set Go! has a huge focus on tutoring.

“We have one on one math tutoring and in group sessions for math and English. So there are some skills that were strengthened,” Shinall says. “We’re working on soft-skill sides.”

On the first night of class, the students start reading Shinall’s book titled “My Struggles, Your Struggles: They’re All The Same.”

“The purpose of that is to help them know that even though you have struggles, everybody has struggles. For me, as their instructor, it’s important to understand that although I’ve had some issues in my life, here I am today teaching you,” Shinall says. “It’s really a passage to try and help gain them some trust. Nothing will make sense if they don’t trust what they are getting in the class. So, right away I want to set that foundation.”

During the course this fall, community members came to the class from a variety of different fields and gave the students information and tips about occupational careers. “The last class we had, we had an electrician coming in who was a former MAP graduate and he is now in his fourth year as an apprentice electrician,” Shinall says. “So he came and talked to his students about his journey and what the class did for him and where he is today.

“The next platform for some is going to be additional education, for some it’s going to be moving into the job market,” Shinall adds. “We have people who are already employed who are seeking better employment. There’s a mix in our first group of students.”

Six of the nine people taking the classes made it all the way through and will be graduating on Saturday, a very official graduation ceremony with caps and gowns and a graduation cake.

“Some of them will be giving speeches. We have some live music. This is really turning into a fabulous event for these students and their families to come and celebrate their accomplishments of completing this program,” Shinall says. “They have cap and gowns; Martha is going to wear her cap and gown to let them see ‘This is where you start and this is where you can end.’ She’ll be giving a keynote address based upon the theme ‘The Start of New Beginnings.’”

The first annual Ready, Set, Go! graduation ceremony will be held Saturday, Dec. 1, 1-4 p.m. at Lakeview Lutheran, 4001 Mandrake Road. The event is open to the public.