Milwaukee’s Audubon InfoTech Academy Opens Their Doors for a Deep Dive with Students and Staff

Marc Lesser
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June 1, 2022

“Challenging…ish” was how Maurice, a student at the Academy of Information Technology at Audubon High School, described participating in his first district-wide technology project competition. His team took first place, and that award stands alongside other trophies that the academy has teamed up to achieve this year – including a big win in the Lego Robotics competition. The students that assembled in Amanda Glunz’s classroom that day were thriving, but modest about their achievements.

This May, twelve members of NAF’s Research & Tech team convened at Audubon High School for a listening session to learn from the academy’s best practices and dig deep into their experience building a program from the ground up. Principal Leon Groce told us about his childhood as the son of artists – maybe, he described, this is why project-driven practice feels very natural.

At the front of the room, Amanda Glunz’s Dremel (a local Minnesota manufacturer) 3D Printer extruded a steady stream of gooey plastic onto its printing surface. Lining the perimeter and tucked into nooks, projects from student groups hung around – visible residue from the idea sparks being generated as the predominately female academy learns early coding and physical computing skills.

A moisture-sensing greenhouse created by students using a microprocessor to water itself.

It’s the only Academy of its kind among several standouts in Milwaukee Public Schools. This academy draws on the strength of a unique grades 6-12 infrastructure and an incredible on-site partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Milwaukee. Educators and BGC leaders team up to expose students to new tech and coding skills beyond the bell – extending students’ excitement sparked during their classroom in their afterschool programs.

Audubon was not spared the challenges COVID-19 presented the last two years. Some students reported feeling isolated and disconnected, and in one case, described how virtual classes weren’t enough to keep them engaged. Masked, but moving toward a new normal, students are back to programming Python and working across the core curriculum to make their tech skills drivers of new understanding. The same student who reported difficulty staying engaged during Covid talked about his recent experience using his computer science algorithms to gain an understanding of what he was learning in his Geometry class. Students on the all-girls, Audobon Robotics team celebrated their first-place finish in the district’s only robotics competition – the first in three years. One of the team members shared their enthusiasm for their teachers and the academy experience stating that she has “learned things she didn’t even know she needed to know.”

District Career and Technical Education leadership came out to join the celebration. It was clear from descriptions shared by Assistant Principal Holly Jacklen and Middle School teacher Terna Barki that it was no one-person show at Audubon that shaped the success of this relatively new academy. Thanks to a team effort, incredible partnerships across the students’ learning contexts, the group is dreaming big about what’s next on the horizon.

A sincere thanks to the staff of Audubon and Milwaukee Public Schools for their hospitality and tremendous work-building experiences through all their future-ready programming. For more info about Milwaukee Public Schools and their Career and Technical Education programs, visit them on the web.

View Bio

Marc Lesser is NAF's VP for Research and Technology. He is a veteran digital learning specialist, research manager, and has led design and innovation efforts in K12 environments nationally. Marc is passionate about supporting youth's agency, identity, and creativity, and has logged conversations with leading experts in education, research, and human development through his podcast, "No Such Thing." Marc writes about NAF research and web services, design and impact.

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