College ready: A Milwaukee inner-city school success story

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. – On Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in inner-city Milwaukee, home to some of the worst-performing schools in the country, sits a school where, for two years in a row, 100 percent of seniors have been accepted to college. 

collegeThis year, more than 80 percent have been accepted already.

Many of the students come from single-parent homes, and 97 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Almost every student attends with financial aid from a voucher.

Teachers and staff at HOPE Christian High School begin with the belief that every child is made in the image and likeness of God, said Jamie Luehring, executive director of the school network, and every child — regardless of income, family situation, neighborhood, or race — can learn.

“We believe our kids have a larger purpose in life, and when they’re able to see that larger purpose and God’s purpose for them, it definitely affects the culture of the school,” Luehring said. “Kids are excited to be there, and to be working hard to get ready for college.”

Students wear uniforms and are courteous to visitors. The hallways and classrooms are full of reminders of the three pillars: Christ, College, Character.

Near the entrance, for example, is a Wall of Acceptance, showing how many seniors have been accepted to college so far. Quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and others remind them of the character-building trending topics, like having a serious mind and taking responsibility for one’s actions and mindsets.

“Anyone who says that kids can’t learn because of their circumstances has never seen the power of a high performing school subscribed to the belief that not only can all kids learn, but they simply will learn,” Luehring said. “That being said, belief alone won’t get the job done.”

Each day, students who master the material receive “exit tickets” allowing them to leave; students who don’t stay after and work with the teacher for extra support. Teachers give their cell phone numbers to students so they can call with homework questions during evenings and weekends. Some teachers meet with students as early as 6 a.m., before the school day starts.



Students and teachers build relationships. The school offers activities outside of school: rollerskating, dinner, kickball, lock-ins.

“We often talk about being a ‘team and family,’ and that is what we become,” Luehring said. “There is a ton of love, accountability, belief and hard work as part of a family, and we are going to do it together.”

Luehring mentioned a student who couldn’t read when he came to HOPE in seventh grade — his test scores indicated he was at a second-grade level.  He repeated seventh grade, and by the beginning of that year, was scoring at a fifth-grade level. By the end of eighth grade, he was at grade level.

The student worked hard, and so did the teachers who gave up breaks and free time to help.

“Our students need to know that God loves them, we love them and we believe in them,” Luehring said. “Our teachers believe that this work is not a job, but a calling. They see every child that walks through their door as having infinite worth in God’s eyes.”

“The child is not a number, not a means to a paycheck, but someone that is worth pouring their hearts and souls into every single day.”

The work isn’t easy, but it’s rewarding, he said.

“There’s definitely self-sacrifice involved, and the servant mentality, but we hire people who simply love kids unconditionally and are going to work like crazy for them.”

Authored by Mary C. Tillotson –

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