Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm
Matthew Johnson, the founder and executive director of Strive Media Institute, plans to develop a new 30,000-square-foot building to open the Strive Media Institute Early College Preparatory High School at 1830 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Milwaukee. The property is just north of Strive Media Institute’s current location at 1818 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. The site currently has a surface parking lot and a Tri State Home Improvement building, which would be demolished.
Johnson has made an accepted offer to purchase the property. He declined to disclose the sale price.
Johnson has launched a $7.5 million capital campaign to build, staff and furnish a three-story new high school on the property with the capacity for 100 students.
Strive Media Institute (SMI) has offered high school students the preparation needed to excel in media-based careers on a part-time basis since 1995. This fall, Johnson will offer the opportunity on a full-time basis with the establishment of the SMI Early College Preparatory High School.
The high school will focus on communications, which is SMI’s specialty.
Communication skills are valuable to all youths, regardless of their career objectives, Johnson said.
"Communications is the thread that runs through every aspect of life and can prepare a young person to be well-spoken, to write well, to communicate with confidence," Johnson said. "Through their experience and training (at SMI), the person becomes a well-rounded individual."
Current participants in the after-school program at SMI serve as editors, writers and designers for SMI’s nationally distributed Gumbo and Ya’ Heard magazines and as television producers and screen writers for SMI’s "Teen Positive" series and "Gumbo TV" that are aired on local television stations.
The high school students who participate in the program pay $500 per year and are able to interview famous actors, music artists and icons.
Students take college-level classes in graphic design, radio and television production and magazine production at SMI, and some alumni end up working for SMI full-time, Johnson said.
"From the programs we currently teach the kids, they could graduate (high school) with 16 to 19 (college) credits," Johnson said.
Students also work on advertising campaigns, including graphic design and video production work, for SMI’s clients, Johnson said.
"We are an ad agency run by youth," he said.
The high school will open this September to its first ninth-grade class, but classes will be held at a local college campus until the school is built, Johnson said.
Johnson would not disclose the name of the partnering college, but he said it is located in the downtown area. Once the high school is built, the college would continue to play a partnering role in SMI Early College Prep, he said.
The high school is being designed by Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects Inc., and Milwaukee-based C.G. Schmidt Construction Inc. agreed to be the contractor retained to build the new facility, Johnson said.
SMI Early College Prep will have its own television studio, recording studio, writing labs, an all-purpose room for events, a café, offices and classrooms.
The high school will offer a full education, including science, math, English and foreign language, to students but will focus on mass communications, Johnson said.
It will be a private school with an annual tuition of $7,500.
All of the courses taught at SMI Early College Prep will be college-level courses. Because of the advanced offerings, students will graduate with both a high school diploma and a two-year associate’s degree in communications, Johnson said.
Also, every student who graduates will have a full scholarship to college from a combination of gifts from SMI, partnerships and the college the student will be attending. The student must attend an in-state college to receive the funding, Johnson said.
"The goal is to match every kid with a business partner so that the business partner has the chance to identify his future employee at the age of 14," he said.
Business partners will serve as sponsors of the students, hopefully offering students internships while in high school and college, funding for a college education and a full-time position after graduation, Johnson said.
Johnson said he hopes to relieve some of the brain drain in Wisconsin.
Part of the solution for the brain drain problem is getting students involved in local companies as interns so that they see the benefits of the cities they live in and receive job opportunities, Johnson said.
He sees the package that he has put together as the opportunity of a lifetime for both the students and local businesses.
"We will create our own pool of young people in the City of Milwaukee that will grow together, live together and their chances of leaving are slim if they are able to find a job," Johnson said.
The education will be project-based, Johnson said. Students will attend classes in the morning and participate in projects in the afternoon. Until the school is built, students will attend classes at the college campus in the morning and participate in projects at SMI in the afternoon, he said.
Johnson says he is confident that he will raise the $7.5 million for the school. He will be looking for donations from foundations, businesses and individuals who understand the importance of education.
Johnson also said he is optimistic because SMI’s successes are only precursors to what the high school and the future SMI after-school groups will be able to accomplish.
"We do not expect this will be an easy task, but we do expect businesspeople to give us the opportunity to present a proven plan," he said.