The United Community Center is opening a new charter school focused on exposing middle school students to technology and skilled trades work.
An opening and dedication ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. today at the UCC’s Walter Sava Learning Center at 615 W. Washington St. in Walker’s Point.
The school, called Acosta Middle School, is chartered through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and will start this year with a group of 50 students.
“For the last 15 years, we’ve been focusing on four-year degrees,” said UCC executive director Ricardo Diaz. “And I think that’s noble, to set the bar as high as we can. If we would’ve started with a two year degree, people would’ve settled for that as an end goal.”
But, he said, a technical education in a manufacturing-heavy city like Milwaukee could be just as valuable to students who decide later on they’re not interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
“At the middle school level, you’re not going to determine who is going to a two- or four-year (college), but the idea is to expose them to different ideas,” Diaz said.
The UCC already operates a K-4 through 8th grade school chartered through UWM called the Bruce Guadelupe Community School, but Diaz said that school has been focusing on delivering a traditional education to prepare students for high school and, eventually, a four-year college. The Acosta Middle School will organize field trips, recruit guest speakers and assign projects that introduce kids to certain fields that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree.
For example, students enrolled in Acosta’s inaugural class this fall participated in a five-week summer program of garden, book-making and boat works projects to prepare them for the year ahead. The projects taught kids how to build compost bins and grow vegetables; write and illustrate short stories and plays; and craft a rowboat using certain mathematical concepts and woodworking skills.
“These are good careers, these are good jobs,” Diaz said. “Whether in health, whether in construction and so on, printing; we have a very large printing field in southeastern Wisconsin. We want them to be familiarized.”
For now, the Acosta school will be located in the Walter Sava Learning Center, which the UCC built 15 years ago and has rented out to different organizations over the years. Most recently, the space was leased by a K-12 charter school district called Seeds of Health.
“We may decide after this year that we need a different building,” Diaz said. “That’s yet to be determined. We will be using this building for the time being. Whether we need to have a different space that we build new with higher ceilings for wood shops or other trades … the population will sort of determine that.”