When fights and altercations at Madison East High School escalated to the point of police pepper-spraying students last fall, a group of mothers at Madison East jumped into action and quickly formed a group to show support for the students and to prevent and de-escalate possible future violent situations at East.
Moms On a Mission (MOMs) are Madison East mothers who have been a consistent presence at the high school during lunch ever since — only pausing to take a break over winter break — and have made an incredible impact in the school breaking up fights and bringing a calming presence to the students.
David Hart, the special assistant to the superintendent at Madison Metropolitan School District, tells Madison365 that MOMS have been an overwhelming success at the school.
“Everything they’ve done out there has been outstanding…. just awesome. The moms have made a real impact on the kids – they really connect with the kids,” Hart tells Madison365. “I have personally observed them and it’s just been a resounding success, and I’m hopeful that it becomes an even more robust effort next year.”
Mom’s On A Mission (MOMs) was formed by five mothers of East High School students, who are also themselves alumni of the school. At lunch, MOMS are visibly present, handing out snacks and engaging with the students in order to form meaningful connections with them while coming together in a variety of ways to help.
“We have been a consistent presence and we are there to support the students,” MOMS member Kaziah Anderson tells Madison365. “We are getting great support from the community, too. Sabrina Madison (founder at The Progress Center for Black Women) had money donated for her birthday and has been a big help. Anthony Cooper (director of re-entry services at Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development) will be there next week. We have had special events like Taco Tuesdays where tacos are just $1 right behind the school.
“Many of these students don’t have access to food at lunch, and so the snacks that we provide are sometimes the only thing that some of these students get to eat for lunch,” she adds. “All of our snacks have been donated by the community.”
Anderson says that they are very good stewards of the donations they have received. “We bring snacks and candy and food to the scholars and just really connect with them on a personal level. Let the scholars know that they care about them and that they are valued,” she says.
“We are doing many different things, but the consensus in the community is that we need long-term solutions for these problems,” Anderson adds.
One of those solutions that the MOMS have been pushing for rigorously is the staggering of the school’s lunch hour which they see as a tool to deter violence, prevent more fights and address behavior issues. Right now, East just has one lunch hour for all of its students.
“I think that if they did this next year we’d have fewer fights at lunchtime because that’s when they always are,” M.O.M.S. member Carmella Glen, who currently has a freshman son at East, tells Madison365. “Fix the space where they are or we will keep doing the same thing over and over. It’s one thing we can do. One of many ideas. We just want our kids to find food and eat in a safe environment so that they can go back into class and learn.”
Anderson has been one of the mothers spearheading the idea to staggering lunches and says that she constantly witnesses “1,700 students going to lunch at the same time” and that it “doesn’t make any sense if we’re trying to prevent violence.”
“I have one kid at Madison East, one kid that’s been there and one kid that’s coming there next year. The moms are all alumni. We’ve heard from so many people that have said, ‘Well, the lunch was staggered when I was there. This seems completely ridiculous to not have split lunches,'” Anderson tells Madison365. “Even for food options: It’s hard to feed 1,700 kids at once. There’s nowhere for them to go so they’re pushed outside.”
“Having more than one lunch just makes sense,” she adds.
Glenn, who has a freshman boy at East, says that she enjoys being a part of the M.O.M.S. group and is a big proponent of staggering lunches.
“I’m an alumni of East and I know that in the ‘80s they had [staggered lunches] and the ‘90s they had it. I know in the ‘80s that they had A, B, & C lunches. It was split up that much and the school didn’t have as many kids,” Glenn says. “They still had off-campus lunch. They just stopped it in the last 10 years, maybe not even.
Glenn says that it is “an equity thing.”
“There are so many kids who don’t have money to eat off-campus. That’s a lot of students, too,” she says. “During COVID times especially, how are they feeding a lunchroom of children who need the free lunch, who need to go sign up, who need to be able to get into the lunchroom space?
“Drive by Kwik Trip (2 blocks away) at lunchtime and you’ll see, because they only allow three students in at a time, a huge line around the store,” she continues. “My kid walks up [7 blocks] to the McDonald’s, Burger King or Little Ceasar’s simply to be able to have time to eat. It’s not enough time. You end up walking and eating to try and nourish your body so you can concentrate for the rest of the day.
“It feels like insanity to have that many kids out and about at one time. I don’t understand that,” Glenn adds. “There’s no equity in that. We know that the school offers free lunches now. We know that more kids would be able to sit down and eat if they did this and enjoy their meals. It makes more sense. Let’s have 400-500 students eating at once instead of 1,700.”
Anderson says that she has been in correspondence with Nelson Render, Chief of Secondary Schools for the Madison Metropolitan School District, about the prospect of having more than one lunch next year at East. (Madison365 also reached out via email to Render and has yet to hear back, but will update this story if we receive a response.)
“He said that they would take it into consideration for next year,” Anderson says. “But from my talks with MMSD, it seems like they feel like staggering lunches is extreme and disruptive. But what we feel is extreme and disruptive are these fights. It’s extreme for me when I have to pick up my son at lunch when there are fights. That, to me, is disruptive. To be honest, it’s a disruptive situation and it calls for a disruptive solution.
“It’s never been a solution that has been brought to the table. We want solutions. Let’s talk about solutions,” she adds. “It’s great for us to be out there at lunch and it’s been working, but we need to have some long-term solutions and ideas.”
Hart, an East High alum, says that he remembers lunches being staggered back in the day under beloved Madison East Principal Milt McPike.
“That’s been a consistent wish of the moms since they started doing this,” Hart says. “It’s the official position from the district is that it’s not a current reality, and it’s something that everyone’s discussing and people are wanting to that idea. But remember, again, there are things that we could do in this current reality that make our schools safer, too.”
Hart has been out there consistently since last October and has a good feel for what is going on at the school. “I’ve missed maybe two days,” he says.
“This has been an impetus of [MMSD Superintendent] Dr. [Carl] Jenkins and he’s given me the space to work from Madison East,” Hart continues. “I’ve been there every day and I’ve watched those mothers and can tell you they have organized in a way that, as a community, you hope folks organize around our kids. It’s been brilliant.
“They can always use more moms out there but the caveat has been, since I’ve been there in October, that they want moms consistent with the group’s values and that they see the kids as young leaders, as brilliant, as our kids and not as the enemy … not as animals or anything like that.”
The bigger picture in mind for the MOMS also involves keeping the SRO (School Resource Officers) out of Madison schools.
“The MOMs can always use additional people and resources. They love those kids, and they see those kids as humans and as scholars. And so I’m hopeful that continues,” Hart says.
Anderson says that the MOMS have gotten support for their group and their idea to stagger lunch from dozens of people including State Sen. Melissa Agard and State Rep. Francesca Hong along with many prominent community members like JustDane Executive Director Linda Ketcham and Urban Triage CEO Brandi Grayson.
As it has started to get a little warmer these past weeks, the fights have broken out again at East.
“The warmer weather is when the kids get feisty. And when they come back next year after summer, that’s when the fights getting really bad … when they’ve all been snap chatting and videoing – that’s a big part of what’s going on here,” Anderson says.
“I’m definitely worried about next week when kids come back from spring break,” she adds. “We could use some more volunteers. David Hart is always there and we appreciate that, but we are a little nervous. The MOMS. expect it to be a tough week ahead.”
But, overall, Anderson says she has enjoyed her work with MOMs and her time with the young people.
“I would say I really enjoy supporting the kids, for the most part. You know, they love when we come out there and they’re used to us … they’re used to our presence now,” she says. “It helps them to feel safer and just kind of more positive. So for me, it’s been a great experience. I love going out there. I love spending time with the kids.”