Service learning brings community, BVHS students together for greater good

July 2, 2015

By Sheila Julson

LEAD PHOTO SMALL Avalon Back Walkway Mural KELLER

Bay View High School students created this 30-foot-long mural in the passageway behind the Avalon that features school colors on a brilliant white background. Besides adding a splash of color, it is hoped that the mural will deter tagging. —Photo Katherine Keller

Bus rider Virginia Flores waits for her transfer. She’s seated on the north side of the bus stop, near the new artwork created by Bay View High School students. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Bus rider Virginia Flores waits for her transfer. She’s seated on the north side of the bus stop, near the new artwork created by Bay View High School students. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Those passing Art Stop at the intersection of Kinnickinnic, Howell and Lincoln avenues will notice a colorful addition to the two large brown electrical utility boxes that face Kinnickinnic. Thanks to the creativity of Bay High School students, the façades of the boxes have been transformed to resemble high school lockers. These “lockers” are bedecked with stickers that document renowned Bay View High School (BVHS) alumni and their stories, while other stickers reference past and current Bay View businesses.

The sticker project is one of several service learning endeavors at BVHS, a component of a graduation requirement introduced to Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) this year. It’s a way to teach and learn that connects classroom studies with the care and concern students naturally have for their world.

New MPS graduation requirements stipulate that every student, starting with the 2015 graduating class, must earn credit through a service learning project, 20 hours of community service, or an online class, according to BVHS principal Aaron Shapiro. “At Bay View specifically, the vast majority of students completed that credit through service learning,” Shapiro said.

Service learning is different than community service in that service learning is tied to the curriculum and it takes place during the school day. Steve Vande Zande, an artist and school support teacher at BVHS, is in charge of transforming the STEM program (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) to STEAM by incorporating the Arts into course content.

He worked with BVHS English department chair Michael Schinner and BVHS innovation artist-in-residence Luther Hall. Schinner began his teaching career at BVHS in 1987.

“One of the ways we’re doing service learning is through design thinking,” Vande Zande said. “The notion of ‘how do we make things better?’ is synonymous with service learning.” The electrical box project challenged students to consider what the problem was, what the potential resolutions might be, and to put a project plan together to create their solution.

Vande Zande said that last year, Kerry Yandell, co-owner of the now-defunct Studio Lounge, approached the school about making the electrical boxes more aesthetically appealing. “She and Alderman Tony Zielinski had a conversation,” Vande Zande said, “and he suggested to her to approach BVHS to see if the students could do something.” Vande Zande and Yandell discussed a potential project, which involved the Kinnickinnic Avenue Business Improvement District #44. They exchanged ideas and considered how the school’s 100th anniversary could be incorporated.

“This is a school that has such a neat history, and it’s a neighborhood that has a unique history,” Vande Zande said. “The students were really fascinated and had great dialogue around it, and all from the service learning perspective of making things better.”

“The kids really learned a lot about Bay View,” Schinner said. “When Steve first approached the project with a theme for the stickers, I thought of tolerance and focused on the integration of the school. A staff member here, Princess Sills (special education teacher), was the first African-American to graduate from Bay View. She talked to the kids and had some powerful stories about what it was like to go to school here in the 1970s. We focused on notable alumni from BVHS and researched all different eras.”

Bus rider Virginia Flores waits for her transfer. She’s seated on the north side of the bus stop, near the new artwork created by Bay View High School students. —Photo Katherine Keller

Bus rider Virginia Flores waits for her transfer. She’s seated on the north side of the bus stop, near the new artwork created by Bay View High School students. —Photo Katherine Keller

Students analyzed how events and ideas developed over the last 100 years in the neighborhood. Using Oracle yearbooks as a resource, each student did a research paper about BVHS alumni. Subjects included civil rights leader Father James Groppi, NBA player Dwight Buycks, Wisconsin State Assembly District 20 Representative Christine Sinicki, former District 6 Milwaukee Alderman Michael McGee, Jr., and Lawrencia Bembenek, who, though convicted of murder, maintained her innocence and fought for her conviction to be overturned until her death in 2010.

Close-Up Olden Ad SMALL KELLER

An ad by Badger DeLuxe Top Company, that once operated on KK, cryptically indicates it offers “winter enclosures” and “California tops.” The ad ran in an old BVHS Oracle. —Photo Katherine Keller

Vande Zande said that the sticker designs also incorporated old business ads from the Oracle to show former Bay View businesses.


Signarama printed the stickers on durable, rain-resistant vinyl. The cost of printing and the cost of the artist-in-residence were paid for by Arts@Large, a nonprofit arts organization that supports arts education at MPS.

The project was installed on June 5. For two hours, Vande Zande and his five students worked to carefully place stickers. Carisse Ramos, executive assistant to KK BID president Lee Barczak, helped measure and cut rectangles of orange, red, pink, azure, and yellow vinyl that serve as a colorful grid, providing a geometrical foundation for the imagery that is affixed to it.

Ramos noted that in the past, BVHS was stigmatized regarding school safety and its reputation in Bay View, but she praised BVHS staff for turning things around in recent years. “Vande Zande and many other dedicated teachers at Bay View High have made an amazing effort in finding creative ways to engage their students, Ramos said. “Part of this has been to immerse students in service learning projects that serve to root them as valuable parts of the community, but also to show them that they can make tangible and positive imprints on a neighborhood.”

During the installation, people took notice. A woman waiting for a bus offered suggestions about which colors would look good. Others asked what the kids were doing. Once the project was completed, students snapped photos of their work so they could show it off. “The students were proud of it,” said Shapiro. “They came back and showed me.”

Vande Zande said in the future, BVHS students would continue the project until all four sides of each box are completed. They’ll use community feedback to continually improve the process.

Food, Composting, Local History

BVHS world history teacher Cassie Mentzer partnered with Pardeep Kaleka and Arno Michaelis of Serve 2 Unite, an organization dedicated to empowering student leaders to build inclusive and compassionate environments in their schools and surrounding communities. Serve 2 Unite also partners with Arts@Large to promote programs that teach compassionate service.

Kaleka’s father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, was killed in the Aug. 5, 2012 shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek. Serve 2 Unite was founded in the spirit of defying hate and practicing Sikh principles of service to others.

Michaelis, a former white supremacist, is now an author, speaker, and activist for peace and tolerance. His 2010 book, My Life After Hate, examines his past and how he changed his mind and heart.

“Pardeep and Arno participated in service learning on Mondays, and they really worked with the kids and established relationships to motivate them about what they can do for their community,” Mentzer said.

One thing that brings communities together is food. Mentzer said one the students in one of her classes focused on healthy food in the city and food democracy. An abundance of fast food restaurants in the area got students thinking about where food comes from. “We watched portions of the documentary Food, Inc. and realized why change needs to occur in the different foods we’re consuming,” she said.

Mentzer said that she and her students also worked with Odd Duck restaurant. Odd Duck, 2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., partnered with BVHS. They served kale salad, braised pork, and flourless chocolate cake to 10 students. Co-owner Melissa Buchholz and executive chef Daniel Jacobs were the main participants. They visited the classroom and discussed nutrition, food, and food preparation. They answered students’ questions about jobs in the service industry.

“The students visited Odd Duck to see what our little business looks like,” said Buchholz. “We explained our principles and mission and fed them a three-course meal so they could get an idea of what we do here in their community. We then revisited the classroom at the end of the year to do a cooking class using fresh vegetables that they could grow or easily get at a farmers market or at a grocery store.”

The students made watermelon and tomato-based gazpacho with almonds that was a hit. “I guarantee that none of these kids had ever heard of gazpacho before,” Mentzer said. “As they were making it, toasting the nuts and smelling the different herbs, they were excited to see these six ingredients that they can combine to make something they’ve never seen or tried or tasted before.” She said the kids talked about it for weeks afterward.

Buchholz said the Odd Duck staff had fun and they would be happy to participate again. “It’s not a small commitment as far as time goes, but it was definitely great to get involved with kids in our community, to feel connected to the community outside the bounds of simply feeding those who choose to dine with us at Odd Duck. Plus, a lot of kids will end up working in food service at some time or another in their lives, so it’s great for them to see alternatives to just working in fast food or corporate restaurants,” she said.

Another of Mentzer’s classes worked together to create a brochure about the benefits of composting. The kids were interested in seeing what can and cannot be composted, how much trash goes into a landfill every year, why composting is good for the community, and common myths associated with composting.

“Eventually, Beulah Brinton Community Center would like to start a compost pile, but they’re worried about how the neighborhood [would] react, so we created this pamphlet to put the neighborhood at ease,” Mentzer said. “The kids loved convincing people to come over to their side.” Kompost Kids provided some guidance for the project, and Mentzer hopes to do more work with the organization.

Mentzer’s students also painted a mural in the passageway behind the Avalon Theater, 2473 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. The artwork, painted in BVHS red and black, against a white background, incorporated students’ handprints in the design.

The mural artists proudly signed their names. —Photo Katherine Keller

The mural artists proudly signed their names.
—Photo Katherine Keller

About 12 students worked on the mural for an hour a week, for approximately three months. “They loved it and took pride in it. The kids were all not necessarily from Bay View, but after we did the mural, they were talking about it, and how they took their mom to see the mural, or how they took their friends to see it. It’s something they’re proud of and gets everyone on board for the sake of creating good stuff,” Mentzer said.

In all, nine community projects were incorporated into service learning at BVHS this year. Katrina Halsey’s human geography students researched the neighborhood and put together a historical walking tour that was conducted during Bay View Gallery Night.

Another ongoing project includes redeveloping the back area of the school into a common area, including a Walk of Fame that features BVHS grads, and for comfort, it will include outdoor furniture.

“From a curriculum standpoint, it’s a micro-close look at how in the present, we have the opportunity to create the history of the future and understand why we do what we do now is because of what happened in the past,” explained Vande Zande. “History is continual; we’re not doing it just to do it, but we’re doing it to make change. A fundamental of service learning is How do we make things better? but also How do we make things better in the present? and How do we push that to the future and create history?”

Principal Shapiro praised the neighborhood and how it has become more receptive to the school in recent years. “The community has really stepped up and gotten involved with what’s been going on here the last few years, and in return, the kids have been going out more and getting involved with community projects,” he said.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and blogs at

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