Wisconsin in Black & White

Kim Neuschel on safety and outcomes for children in school

Former public health nurse Kim Neuschel describes an effort to help elementary students in Madison feel safer by improving lighting and painting a mural in a tunnel on a walking route to a school.

By Nathan Denzin | Here & Now

October 26, 2023 • South Central Region

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Kim Neuschel:
In the neighborhood I was serving, I don't remember the exact statistic, but the truancy rates were high for elementary-age kids. So I think a common way that we might look at something like that is to think, well, what's going on in those families? Maybe we need to intervene. Let's talk with the parents. It's their responsibility to get their kids there on time. Is there something happening? And what we found, because this was true, when we actually listened, were there were all kinds of reasons why kids weren't getting to school on time. And one of the main factors was the walking route to school didn't feel safe. And there was a tunnel that ran under the street, and it was dark and dirty and dingy. There was a urine. There were these dark, kind of yellowy lights. It felt creepy. Sometimes there were folks who were unhoused sleeping in the tunnel in the mornings when kids would walk to school. And what the community ended up doing was coming up with some wonderful solutions, both advocating for better lighting, which I'm happy to say got in the budget, and, you know, the city responded, ultimately, but also we raised money to respond to their idea of putting in a mural that the kids designed. And we worked with the school art teacher. And all of a sudden, you know, you take something that could so easily create this further divide of understanding, that parents don't care about their kids' education, which was far from the truth, to really recognizing there were systematic barriers to kids getting to school on time. And I don't wanna oversimplify it and say that's the only reason why kids weren't getting to school on time, but it was a big part of it. And we did show at the end of that kids' sense of safety and sense of belonging and connection, both to the school, as well as to their community and that walking route, really shifted for them. So I think something like this course helps us zoom out and recognize that we all are who we are because of everything that came before us. And so understanding what came before us matters. It really matters because it's the context of all of our lives. Like, history's happening now. You know, it's not like, the past. Like, it's unfolding to this moment. And so really to take kind of the moment to really help ourselves understand how we got to where we are as a country, as a community, as an individual, I think really matters.

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