Northwestern Mutual

Early Literacy Spells Success

Learn about how the Northwestern Mutual Foundation helped improve more than just the reading scores at Gwen T. Jackson Elementary School.

When the Northwestern Mutual Foundation set out to help improve third grade reading scores at Gwen T. Jackson Elementary School, it didn’t factor in the impact the human element would have not just on building reading skills, but on the lives of everyone involved.

“At the outset, one of the goals was to develop a love of reading,” said Principal Kanika Burks. “But what happened went far beyond that. Northwestern Mutual got to the heart of these students. Now they know they can do anything.”

The partnership with Gwen T. Jackson is part of Northwestern Mutual’s commitment to improving third-grade reading proficiency and helping underserved neighborhoods in Milwaukee, one of which is the Amani neighborhood where the school is located. The literacy project became an all-school affair that included a spelling bee, parent workshops and participation in the Read to Achieve program with the Milwaukee Bucks.

NMF Kamika Profile parent and child bookbag recipient

A reading of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” inspired a third-grade field trip to the Northwestern Mutual headquarters in Milwaukee. “Some of these students never had seen the lakefront or been on an escalator,” Burks said. “Learning about the business side of Northwestern Mutual was an invaluable experience.”

The partnership with Northwestern Mutual has opened the door to other resources in the community, such as the school’s new partnership with the literacy-focused Milwaukee Succeeds and a summer reading program in conjunction with Marquette University.

Once-struggling third-grade readers are now confident fourth-graders who eagerly display their newfound joy of reading. “Last year it was like pulling teeth to get some students to read. Now they are reading independently and seeking out books.”

The value of Northwestern Mutual’s involvement at Gwen T. Jackson goes far beyond monetary assistance, Burks said. “It’s the heart of all the Northwestern Mutual employees who have helped our school. This is not just this faceless entity saying your school needs to do this,” Burks said of Northwestern Mutual. “They get into the building and ask questions about what we need.”

One of those discussions led to a donation for new tables and chairs for the school’s outdated library. What was once a closed-in uninspiring space is now the favorite spot in the building for students and staff alike. “There is never a moment during the school day that library is not being used,” Burks said.

A group of employees and their families painted, cleaned and organized at the school during a day of service in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Others initiated a winter coat drive and donated flash drives to the students. At the start of the school year, several Northwestern Mutual employee groups joined together to donate backpacks and school supplies for the school’s 369 students in grades K3 through 5. They collected 750 backpacks in all. “I have a school with a very high poverty rate,” Burks said. “That’s a stressor off of my families who might have had to choose between a backpack and school supplies and food,” she said.

“They’ve touch us in ways I don’t even know,” Burks said. “It’s a true partnership.”

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