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News Brief: Fall/Winter 2020-21

News Brief: Fall/Winter 2020-21

So many exciting things happen with students, faculty, and staff at USM that we don’t have room to fit it all in the magazine. Below are longer-form versions of the stories from the magazine, including more information and, for more stories, photo galleries and videos.

WIAA Award of Excellence

Athletic Director Tim Williams holds the WIAA Award of Excellence.

University School of Milwaukee was one of 46 schools in the state of Wisconsin to be named recipients of the 2019–20 Award of Excellence from the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA). This is the third time the school has received the award, which has been given in the past four years, also having been named in 2016–17 and 2018–19. The award recognizes member schools for their efforts and achievements in the areas of sportsmanship, ethics, integrity, leadership, and character.

“This award is a wonderful achievement for our program and is a true team effort from all parts of our program including coaches, players, parents and administrators,” said Director of Athletics Tim Williams. “We are very proud of our teams and our athletic program at USM and this reaffirms our commitment to putting our best efforts out on our fields, courts, trails and ice.”

Some of the criteria applied toward the award include:

  • Athletic director conducted regularly occurring meetings with coaches, student leadership, and student athletes and their parents about sportsmanship, ethics and/or integrity
  • Coaches and student athletes attended a sportsmanship summit, leadership conference, etc.
  • Athletic director made the student body aware of sportsmanship initiatives through school assemblies, announcements, posters, etc.
  • Three or more athletic teams gave back to their school or community through volunteerism
  • Athletic director nominated a boy and/or girl for WIAA Scholar Athlete recognition (either for local or state level recognition)

Haughton Named Director of Equity and Student Success

Dr. Gina Haughton

Dr. Gina Haughton has been named University School of Milwaukee’s director of equity and student success. She reports to Steve Hancock, USM’s head of school, and holds key administrative, multifunctional responsibilities to ensure USM student equity and success in their experience at, and beyond, USM. She will partner with Hancock and the school’s leadership team to define and lead the school’s PK–12 justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) vision and strategy, including the establishment of plans, programs, and metrics for evaluation.

Haughton joined USM in 2019 as the school’s director of student success. Previously she served as a member of Cardinal Stritch University’s graduate program faculty and served as the chair of their master’s-level programs in teaching, inclusive education, and higher education student affairs leadership. She earned a Ph.D. in leadership through learning for the advancement of service from Cardinal Stritch University, and holds a bachelor’s in education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Her areas of research include leadership, racism, and multiculturalism. “It has become clear to me that I need a partner in leading this important work, and I did not have to look far to find my perfect match in Dr. Haughton,” said Hancock. “Gina has listened, learned, and accomplished a great deal this past school year. She loves USM, and together we want to see the school develop as a leader in the areas of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

USM Students Named National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists

Five University School of Milwaukee students have been named semifinalists in the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Competition. Congratulations to the following seniors: Wali Amin, Neil Dogra, Anna Fitzsimmons, Jacob Hoelzer, and Shaan Pannu.

In addition, congratulations to the following seniors who were named commended scholars in the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Competition: Kai Bartl, Andrew Cotton, Joseph Gozon, Caitlyn Miller, and Thomas Wright.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation honors academic excellence by awarding scholarships to the nation’s top students each year. About 1.5 million juniors from more than 21,000 high schools entered the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2019 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, with less than 1% receiving recognition as semifinalists.

These students have the opportunity next spring to compete for some 7,600 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $30 million. To be considered for a scholarship, students must advance to the Finalist level of the competition. Winners are chosen based on their skills, accomplishments, and potential for success in rigorous college studies, without regard to gender, race, ethnicity, origin, or religious preference.

USM Welcomes Author Atia Abawi

University School of Milwaukee welcomed award-winning foreign correspondent and author Atia Abawi on Tuesday, Oct. 6, who visited virtually with 9th grade students. Her most recent novel, “A Land of Permanent Goodbyes,” was the assigned summer reading for 9th graders and is about refugees escaping from war-torn Syria. Upon starting school in the fall, students discussed the book in their English classes and will continue the conversation in their history classes.

Basma Daham ’21 delivered a biographical introduction of Abawi, who then spoke to students about her experience as a journalist, and how her books—although fiction—are based on real-life stories and interviews with refugees and individuals who work with refugees. Students were then able to submit questions to Abawi, and the questions were moderated by Enrique Aldape ’21 and Irene Gay ’21.

Virtual Visit with Author Noé Álvarez

Author Noe Alvarez joins students via Zoom.

University School of Milwaukee hosted a virtual author visit, welcoming Noé Álvarez, author of “Spirit Run: A 6,000-mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land.” Álvarez’s visit, on Monday, Oct. 12, coincided with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Prior to the start of the event, Mya Hartjes ’23 read an acknowledgment to honor the land on which USM’s campus sits, which was once home to the Potawatomi and Menominee tribes.

Álvarez was introduced by Enrique Aldape ’21, who also moderated (along with Irene Gay ’21) questions that were submitted by students. Álvarez discussed his childhood, the marathon, the process of writing the book, and more. His book was the assigned summer reading for 10th grade students, and is related to curricular themes that students study in their sophomore English and history courses, including voice and how it is impacted by gender and race, and themes of hierarchy, equality, and freedom.

Many thanks to USM’s Parents’ Association, which partially sponsored his visit.

Virtual Visit with Author Julie Lythcott-Haims

University School of Milwaukee hosted a virtual author visit with Julie Lythcott-Haims on Monday, Nov. 2. Lythcott-Haims is the author of “Real American: A Memoir” and “How to Raise an Adult.” “Real American” is her newest book and was the required summer reading for juniors. It is an award-winning reflection on identity, belonging, and community, and Lythcott-Haims details growing up Black and biracial in white spaces.

Anika Krishnamurti ’22 introduced the author, who shared stories from her childhood and being raised by interracial parents, and discussed her motivation to write the book. She also answered questions submitted by students, which were moderated by Nala Patel ’22 and Joe Zimmerman ’22.

Lythcott-Haims is a former corporate lawyer and Stanford dean, and she holds a B.A. from Stanford University, a J.D. from Harvard University, and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts.

Many thanks to USM’s Parents’ Association, which partially sponsored her visit.

USM Seniors Study Evictions in Milwaukee and the U.S.

Naomi Shifrin joins USM students via Zoom to discuss evictions in the United States.

In connection with seniors’ summer read, “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond, University School of Milwaukee welcomed Naomi Shifrin, a student researcher from Desmond’s Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Shifrin is a third-year undergraduate in the sociology department at Princeton, pursuing a certificate in the Center for Human Values.

The Eviction Lab is a team of researchers, students, and website architects who believe that a stable, affordable home is central to human flourishing and economic mobility. Shifrin shared her background with USM students and answered questions about the work she and her team are doing to research evictions and their consequences in this country, as a direct result of Desmond’s book. “Research has the potential to illuminate truths about the nature of our society,” she said. “When we look at big data and stories of people through research, we can illuminate the truths about nature of our society. Through research, we can reveal truths that can be compelling to policy makers. When we have data and evidence to show them, they’ll give us their ear to change systemic workings and hopefully change lives.”

Float Like a Butterfly

Students release monarch butterflies after learning how to tag them.

Each fall, kindergarten students get a hands-on experience while learning about the life cycles of Monarch butterflies. Not only do they observe as the butterflies emerge from their chrysalises, they learn how to tag them with a small sticker and release them. After recording the butterfly’s gender and tag number, the butterflies are free to migrate to their overwintering grounds in Mexico and the children returned to being physically distant. The teachers upload the tag information to an online database, which they are able to check over the coming months to see if any of their butterflies completed their journey to Mexico. Over the years, USM teachers have noted that several of the butterflies released by their classes have made it to Mexico.

The event is an extension of the students’ classroom learning about the life cycles of different plants and animals, including butterflies, apples, and more.

Tagging and releasing butterflies is one of several ways students study the insects. Lower School science teacher Andrew Stone created a Monarch waystation on campus in 2018 by working with students to plant common milkweed and other nectar-producing plants in a dedicated area on campus, which provide Monarchs with the energy needed to journey to overwintering grounds in Mexico.

Fall 2020 Cum Laude Society Members Inducted

Fall 2020-21 Cum Laude Society inductees.

Each fall and winter, University School of Milwaukee welcomes the top 10% of its senior class into the Cum Laude Society, an organization that honors superior scholastic achievement in secondary schools.

The following 11 seniors were honored as fall Cum Laude Society inductees. Congratulations to:

Neil Dogra, Josephine Dermond, Anna Fitzsimmons, Lauren Glusman, Joseph Gozon, Shaan Pannu, Margaret Rankin, Juliana Tovar, Ryan Treptow, Zoe Uihlein, and Thomas Wright.

About the Cum Laude Society

The Cum Laude Society was founded in 1906. Approximately two dozen of the 382 chapters are located in public schools, with the majority in independent schools. Membership is predominantly in the United States, but chapters are located across the globe.

Speaker Series: Social Media Wellness and COVID-19

Social media wellness speaker event.

University School of Milwaukee hosted its first virtual speaker series event of the 2020–21 school year through its partnership with REDgen on Monday, Nov. 2 with Ana Homayoun, author and educator. Her presentation was titled “Social Media Wellness During COVID-19” and centered on helping parents and educators understand the new world of social media socialization, and how we can all work to make better choices around social media and overall wellness.

The USM/REDgen Speaker Series is a partnership between University School of Milwaukee and REDgen, a Milwaukee-based organization which fosters active community conversations around what it means to live a healthy, balanced life with authentic success. This is the fourth year of the partnership and speaker series events.

Click here for a recording of Homayoun’s presentation.

About Ana Homayoun

Ana Homayoun is an educator and the author of three books: “That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week,” “The Myth of the Perfect Girl,” and “Social Media Wellness.” Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Jose Mercury News, as well as on Fast Company, CNBC, and ABC News, among others, and she is a frequent guest on NPR.

In 2001, Ana founded Green Ivy Educational Consulting, LLC, an internationally recognized organization that works with parents, students, educators, and employers. She works with schools, universities, and corporations consulting with parents, students, educators, and employers about promoting intrinsic motivation, authentic engagement, and overall wellness. In early 2019, with the support of the Foundation for the Carolinas, she launched the Life Navigator Middle School Program, a school advisory curriculum and school coaching program designed to promote executing functioning skills and student wellness as well as social and economic mobility. To learn more about her work, visit

Neil Dogra '21 Earns Positively Milwaukee Award

Neil Dogra receives a Positively Milwaukee Award from TMJ4.

Neil Dogra ’21 has been named a 2020 TMJ4 Positively Milwaukee award winner. The award honors “quiet leaders in our community” who make Milwaukee a great place to live. The show premiered on Nov. 24 and airs again on Nov. 26 and Dec. 25.

Dogra, a USM prefect, has worked for the past several years to address the opioid crisis in Milwaukee. He has created documentary films, written an opioid lesson plan for Milwaukee Public School students, and given peer advocacy talks to MPS students in 7th through 10th grades.

Hancock Leads Story Time

Steve Hancock reads children's books to students via Zoom.

Steve Hancock, University School of Milwaukee’s head of school, is inviting students to join him virtually for story time sessions. His latest book is “Fantastic Mr. Fox” by Roald Dahl, and the sessions last for 30 minutes or less. For the Zoom link, families are asked to check their email or view the message on the Preschool and Lower School Parent Page message links on myUSM (bottom right).

Earlier this week, he finished his read of Roald Dahl’s “The Giraffe and the Pelley and Me,” which he read to students over three sessions. The recordings for this and additional stories can be found on USM’s YouTube page, under the Story Time with Mr. Hancock playlist.

Games for Change

Students play homemade arcade games to raise money for charity.

Seventh grade students in Brian Markwald’s economics class participated in a service project while learning about microfinance and the power of loans to change lives. Inspired by the cardboard arcade created in California in 2012 by then-9-year-old Caine Monroy, they developed a wide variety of arcade games and invited Lower School students to play the games for 25 cents each with a chance to win prizes. Taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic, the event followed the school’s 3-Ws: wearing masks, watching distance, and washing hands.

The money raised from the event was used to make a zero-interest microloan through the KIVA organization. Students in 7th grade have participated in this project for many years, and recently crossed the $35,000 threshold of loans made collectively.

“This project makes the curriculum come alive,” said Markwald, 7th grade social studies teacher. “I love seeing their finals creations—some of the games are really clever! I believe learning should be fun, and the KIVA project shows that.”

Four Walls and a Roof

Students build a shed on campus, guided by teacher Kip Jacobs.

Seventh grade science students participated in a special project recently—building a shed to be used by the school’s outdoor education program. The structure, located in the wooded area beyond the Middle School fields, will store tools and materials incorporated into the outdoor education classes and activities for all divisions, ensuring those items are easily accessible where they are needed (outside), while making room for much-needed classroom space. The project was spearheaded by 7th Grade Science Teacher Kip Jacobs ’74, who is a co-chair of the Outdoor Education committee.

The students put both their math and science skills to practice on a real-world project, while also learning how to use tools like impact drivers, levels, tape measures, and more. They also practiced teamwork and communication skills, and they will now feel gratified knowing that they contributed to the growth of the school’s outdoor education program.  

This project was funded by the Storer Foundation which, together with several family foundations, is supporting the growth of the school’s outdoor education initiatives.

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