La Crosse schools aim to close education gaps, dealing with racial and economic barriers children face

La Crosse Public Education Foundation and community partners announce $30,000 to promote equity, diversity and inclusion
School Equality Grants

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Community leaders are trying to close the education gap for students. A special grant program announced Wednesday by the La Crosse Public Education Foundation is helping fund new opportunities.

School was difficult enough for some students before the pandemic.

“It’s been a crazy time for the schools and for all of us,” said David Stoeffler, executive director of the La Crosse Public Education Foundation.

COVID-19 packed on more stress many children live with outside of school.

“We all have to look in the mirror know that for those of us who are white, we often have a different experience than other folks in the community have,” Stoeffler said.

The La Crosse School District is working on ways to open doors for students who have a greater chance to fail.

“It’s been curriculum changes. It’s been systemic changes,” said John Havlicek, a teacher at Central High School. “There are a lot of barriers that our country puts up in front of folks.”

He said a lot of people forget how fortunate they are.

“I never had to worry about healthcare,” Havlicek said. “I never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from.”

This may not feel, for most people, like a privileged lifestyle. However, to others, simple necessities are hard for families to provide their children.

For example, Havlicek said some students in his classes have eye problems and their parents can’t afford to get them in to get a pair of glasses.

“Those needs are growing and kids carry that,” he said.

English teacher Kim Butterfield has been trying to stay connected to children during the pandemic. Children who don’t have support at home are often disconnected from their school work.

“We have to think about the whole child, not just, ‘How are you doing in my English class?; How are you doing as a person?” Butterfield said.

Butterfield said minorities can overcome poverty and racism. Her mother came over from South Korea shortly after the Korean War and turned nothing into something.

“She worked very hard, slept about four hours a night, and built a business,” Butterfield said. “She now employs about 300 people in her business.”

However, Butterfield’s mother didn’t do it alone.

“She also had support of my white father who was able to cosign loans with her,” Butterfield said.

La Crosse Public Education Foundation and community partners are providing $30,000 to help give all students a chance.

“We’re calling it the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Grants Program,” Stoeffler said. “It’s also just having access just to be able to buy school materials even for your home lessons.”

La Crosse school leaders want to fix the education gap so college is an option for more children. Butterfield talked about how some students’ home lives impact their ability to test into advanced courses in high school. She said those classes can help a child skip entry-level courses at the college level that come with an added cost.

“They can basically test out of a $1,000 class,” she said.

Even though La Crosse doesn’t represent the diversity of the entire country, Butterfield said La Crosse can still be an example for other communities.

“We are all Americans, and we definitely need to make sure that we’re using our energies here in La Crosse to make this a better world overall,” Butterfield said.

The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and Mayo Clinic Health System are joining LPEF in providing the funding.