In only his second year of teaching Project Citizen, Michael Hanley at the Hmong American Peace Academy in Milwaukee showed that he is an excellent teacher. In an eloquent video and article from the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, Hanley explains that he believes “each child, no matter where they are from or what ethnicity they are, should have access to a high quality education.”
In the 2015–16 school year his eighth-graders conducted six Project Citizen projects. Among their efforts, they studied the effects of California’s tough guns laws with the hope of curbing gun-related violence in Milwaukee. They worked to create a statewide curriculum that informs social media users about the harms of cyber bullying. They proposed the development of year-round gardens through aquaponics, a process where waste produced by farmed fish supplies nutrients for plant growth, to provide affordable options to low-income Milwaukee residents.
Each group of four to five students shared its findings at the state showcase for Project Citizen, where they proposed solutions to community problems to a panel of judges. They were among 10 teams from six elementary and middle schools at the competition held recently in Madison. A team from Riverview Elementary School in Silver Lake earned top honors for its presentation on eye examinations for infants at birth.
The HAPA class made a deep impression, with all of their projects having qualified for the state showcase. Typically, no school sends more than two teams to the showcase. Hanley said, “I am extremely proud of all of the hard work and dedication that the students have put into their projects.” Jack Jarmes, the Project Citizen state coordinator and one of the judges, said the evaluators labeled each of the three teams as “exceptional. They really did their research.”
“My motivation to come back to Milwaukee was definitely to give back to the community that made college possible for me,” said Hanley. HAPA appealed to Hanley because he said it treats “teaching like a service” and Project Citizen enables him to put his philosophy of having his students focus on everyday problems to the test. Working on the project “really teaches them how to collaborate with people whose views might differ from their own,” he said.
According to HAPA Principal Tracy Eastburn, Hanley is a “dedicated teacher” whose top priority is student learning. “He is helping students understand and internalize the processes needed to create positive change in the society in which they live,” Eastburn said.
Hanley deflected praise to the students and their work. He said the effort would all be for nothing if students were not so invested in their projects and wanting to make a difference in their community.
“I could plan a project all I want, but if the students don’t take it and work at it, it is not going to go anywhere,” Hanley said.
To read the article and see the inspiring video click here.