This column is the second in a four-part series submitted by members of the Racine Unified School District Volunteer Communication Sub-committee.
During my high school years, I had the opportunity to nurture my passion for the arts, both performing and visual arts. I was particularly interested in creating pencil and charcoal drawings. As a freshman, I partnered with several upper classmen to form a local band. The opportunity to perform helped me to develop the confidence I would need in law enforcement. I also learned to meet deadlines and to be a team player, and to never settle for less than the best I could do.
As a sophomore and again as a junior, I was honored to be selected by my teachers to receive scholarships to attend a summer camp held in Green Bay for aspiring artists. This summer enrichment program was sponsored through a partnership between RUSD and the UW System. The opportunity to travel to and temporarily live in a different environment was unique for me. Although the trip was intimidating from the perspective of teen who had never ventured so far from home, the experience allowed me to grow both artistically and socially.
In reflecting on my high school coursework and overall educational experience within the district, I realize that I developed a gradual but intense appreciation for English, social studies and psychology. Through analyzing complex pieces of fine literature, conducting research and interviews, drafting essays, and writing academic papers, I learned valuable communication skills that were essential to and transferable to my eventual career in law enforcement. Proficiency in critical thinking, oral and written communication skills can make the difference when advancing from entry level service to advanced levels of management and leadership. Even before I had a specific career choice in mind, I knew I would benefit from the lessons learned during my early school years.
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We now know that, from a developmental standpoint, appropriate reading proficiency by the completion of the third grade is critical to one’s ability and capacity to absorb new information and move forward. Those who can’t read early on will struggle to learn new information. With this reality gratefully noted, much of my later success can be attributed to the years of orderly and expert preparation during my pre-high school years.
During my early development, I enjoyed a hybrid school placement experience that included being educated at the neighborhood level at Franklin Elementary, while being educated outside of my immediate neighborhood during my junior high and high school years. Collectively, the two uniquely different experiences prepared me for success. The neighborhood school experience provided the safety, security and comfort of being in a familiar place, whereas the subsequent exposure to areas outside of my immediate neighborhood, exposed me to other cultures, viewpoints and perspectives.
Overall, from an academic achievement perspective to social interaction, my school experience provided the foundation upon which I was able to achieve success in my current profession.
Like many young couples who migrated to Wisconsin from the deep South in the 1950s, my parents moved to Racine to pursue job opportunities in this community. My father worked at J.I. Case Co. for 33 years. In addition to raising six children, my mother worked part time as well. Although a number of my successful classmates left to pursue employment outside Racine, I made the conscious decision to stay in Racine in order to maintain strong family ties while contributing to the community that had sustained my family since the 1950s.
Within the Greater Racine Community are a number of established and emerging leaders who received their education in the Racine Unified School District. Many have elected to remain connected and to “give back” to this community. The district has many success stories to be shared, and as a community, we will benefit from reflecting on local success stories. My story is but one such testimonial.
Art Howell is Racine chief of police.