For 20 years, the Mann Scholars Program has been providing important 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. On this Friday, June 2, the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery Town Center on the UW-Madison campus will be the host as the Mann Scholars Program celebrates 20 years and welcomes four new students to their program.
“This is our 20th freshman class, so that’s pretty exciting,” Amy Wallace, Mann Scholars program coordinator, tells Madison365. “It’s a community celebration that is always a lot of fun. The open house starts at 5:30 p.m. and the program to acknowledge the students will be from 6-7 p.m. The community is welcome. Families come, school staff comes, people from Madison Community Foundation will be coming. It’s a chance for partners and community people to come together to celebrate our students.”
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.
Former Mann Scholar Brittany McNeil will be the special speaker for the event and she will talk about her experience studying at University of Minnesota-Mankato. She was a spring 2016 graduate with a bachelor’s of science degree majoring in communication disorders.
“Brittany will be an inspiration to both our graduates and to our incoming students,” Wallace says. “She’s very excited. She has her speech all ready to go.”
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.
“There are a group of students that we know are going to college but there was another group that was somewhat marginal that had good grades but weren’t following through on the next steps to go on to college,” Wallace remembers. “The Mann Scholars Program felt like there was a real need to support these students while they were in high school.”
It all started out as just a dream of two parents. The Mann Scholars Program selected their first two Mann Scholars that year to honor the late Bernard and Kathlyn Mann, long-time Madison African-American parents 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.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since this important program first got its start. So what was happening way back in 1997 besides, of course, the Macarena and Mambo No. 5?
“Hahaha. Well, the Mann Scholar’s first class of freshman back in 1997 was just two students and the next class was also two students. We started adding from there,” Wallace remembers. “In the early days, it was a new program and it was pretty small. Back then they used to announced the new class at Christy Presbyterian Church.
“Back then, it was pretty much a piece of clay because there were some great ideas,” Wallace adds.
Wallace started as a volunteer for former Mann Scholars Coordinator Kathy Price back in the day before quickly becoming part of the paid staff becoming Price’s assistant. A few years ago, she took over as the Mann Scholars program coordinator.
Wallace remembers when the first Mann Scholars cohort graduated that the first official Mann Scholars Celebration event was held at the Red Gym on UW-Madison campus.
Fast forward to 2017 and the Mann Scholars has 16 current scholars and have had 50 graduates. The graduation rate for the Mann Scholars Program is an amazing 98 percent. Mann Scholars graduates have gone on to do some amazing things. Pahoua Thao, for example, has come full circle and is a former Mann Scholar now working with the Mann Program. She graduated from East High School and UW-Madison with an undergraduate degree in community leadership and a master’s degree in counseling.
The annual Mann Scholars event this Friday is a chance to bring the ever-growing Mann Family together to celebrate the program and to add to that family as the exciting announcement of the new Mann Scholars will be made at the event. (Wallace will not divulge the names early … “You have to come to find out!” she says.)
“It’s also a time to celebrate our five amazing graduating seniors,” Wallace says. “We give them an opportunity to speak about their experiences and share some words of wisdom to the new scholars that are coming in.”
The graduating seniors this year are:
◆ Elijiah Anderson-Fountain
LaFollette High School – attending UW-Green Bay in the fall
◆ Symone Booker
East High School – attending Alcorn State University in the fall
◆ James Horton
Memorial High School – attending Madison College in the fall
◆ Simeon Parker
West High School – attending UW-Green Bay in the fall
◆ Narik Riak
LaFollette High School – attending UW-Madison in the fall
Throughout high school, Mann Scholars have the opportunity to build skills they will need beyond the school setting — financial literacy, community leadership, organizational techniques and career exploration, among others. In recent years, the Mann Scholars have become a more tight-knit group.
“I think that each year we try to look at developing as a program things that we could be doing as a group,” Wallace says. “We’ve started doing monthly volunteer opportunities about six years ago. We started doing monthly meetings at the high schools so scholars could get to know each other and be there to support each other. We’ve really been working to develop ways to support each other as the program has grown to create a sense of community amongst the Mann Scholars.”
Wallace says that being the Mann Scholars program coordinator has been a great experience for her. “I really get to know the students over the four years and to be part of their process to become who they become,” she says. “It’s an honor and a privilege. It’s really inspiring to see what kids overcome to accomplish the dreams and goals that they have set for themselves.
“I’ve probably been to 60-65 graduations … and that never gets old. I love the energy around graduation and seeing kids walk the stage,” she adds. “And even when they move on, they are always a part of my life. I’ve been to lots of baby showers and weddings and college graduations and other important life moments. It’s really a special thing to be a part of.”
On this Friday, June 2, 5:30 p.m., the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery Town Center on the UW-Madison campus will be the host as the Mann Scholars Program celebrates 20 years and welcomes four new students to their program. The event is free and open to the public.