“It’s an exciting event. We celebrate the seniors who have spent four years planning for their high school graduation and for their post-secondary plan,” says Mann Scholars Program Coordinator Amy Wallace. “So, we’ve spent a lot of time together over the last four years meeting, planning, volunteering in the community. This year, the scholars gave back over 95 hours in community service to the Madison community.”
The Mann Scholars Program provides vital mentoring and educational tools to students from the Madison Metropolitan School District who show potential for academic achievement but face significant challenges to reaching their full potential. Tonight at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery Town Center on the UW-Madison campus those scholars will be celebrated at the annual Mann Scholars Celebration.
“This is actually year 22 overall for the Mann Scholars Program,” Wallace tells Madison365. “Next year, we will be celebrating the 20th graduating high school class of 2020. That will be a big deal for us.”
From 5:30 to 6 p.m., there will be an open house with light snacks and lemonade. At 7 p.m the program will start and will welcome four new incoming freshman students to the Mann Scholars program. After that, they will also honor graduating seniors which include ReAnna Martin from LaFollette High School who plans to attend Harris Stowe University; Kaevon Buchanan from Memorial High School, who plans to take a gap year; and Cornelious Bragg III from East High School, who plans to attend UW-Whitewater.
The event is traditionally quite emotional and humorous as graduates talk about their struggles and triumphs and their future plans as family members cheer them on and sometimes cry.
“This program was first initiated because, at that time in the ’90s, the graduation rate for African-American students was about 56 percent, which was unacceptable,” Wallace says. “So the program was designed to support the students who have a dream and desire to go onto college but need some assistance along the way to get there. We spend time working with the student and the family as a team to make sure that kids are graduating on time and prepared to move on.”
Each Mann Scholar receives $1,000 per year each year during high school, mentoring support, and assistance in planning high school and post-secondary studies. During their high school years, these young people receive whatever financial, mentoring, and academic support they need to succeed. The scholarship funds help pay for extracurricular and school expenses during high school, and the program also provides academic mentoring.
“We meet monthly as scholars. We do college visits. We visited Epic [Systems] and Capitol Lakes to do some career exploration,” Wallaces says. “We do a lot to prepare kids for the next step after high school.”
The Mann Scholars program is a partnership between the Madison Metropolitan School District, the Madison Community Foundation and the Mann Educational Opportunity Fund. The founders of this program realized that education, while no longer separate, had remained unequal for decades in regard to graduation rates for students of color.
“That is what this program celebrates – first-generation students of color who will be the first in their family to attend college,” Wallaces says. “The program over the years has had a 98 percent graduation rate. Only one student in the last 22 years has not graduated high school but she is still working on that through a GED program at Madison College.”
The Mann Scholars Program honors the late Bernard and Kathlyn Mann, long-time Madison residents and strong advocates for high-quality and equitable educational opportunities for all students enrolled in MMSD. Daughters Becky Gobermann and Lori Mann Carey, who head up the Mann Fund, are present for the Mann Scholars Celebration held every spring on the UW-Madison campus.
Wallace stresses that this is a celebration for the Mann Scholars and their families but also for the whole community.
“It’s a great chance to meet and listen to some amazing young people and to cheer them on and to support them,” she says. “It’s great to have community cheering them on and letting them know that their success is important, not just for themselves and their families … but for the overall Madison community.”