City Forward Collective

City Forward Collective is a Milwaukee nonprofit that works to eliminate inequities in education and increase access to high-quality schools. The organization provides training, job coaching, and networking opportunities for school leaders and teachers, engages in policy, advocacy, and community organizing work, and makes grant investments. Their north star is ensuring every child in Milwaukee has access to high-quality educational opportunities.

When COVID-19 forced school buildings closed in mid-March, the City Forward Collective team knew Milwaukee educators and families would have a lot of new needs. In response, they began curating resources and raising money for a special grant fund to support schools making the shift to distance learning. The team shifted their in-person programming online. Additionally, they significantly increased the number of offered training sessions from 1-3 sessions per month to 1-3 sessions per week! These sessions have reached more than 700 teachers and school leaders.

As City Forward Collective spoke with educators, parents, and students, they quickly learned that there were huge disparities in the learning opportunities being offered to students. Some schools were providing robust distance learning to all of their students, while some were only offering basic paper worksheets. Others were offering nothing at all. School buildings closed with about 1/3 of the school year to go, so the idea that some kids would lose the remainder of the year was unacceptable.

As the team worked to directly equip and empower hundreds of educators to serve their students, they began hearing about some incredible work being done for kids. As such, City Forward Collective created a blog series—available HERE — to shine a light on the schools that were doing whatever it takes to overcome barriers on behalf of their students to keep learning moving forward. These blogs also serve to build community awareness that while many schools have not been serving their students well during the pandemic-related school closings, there are many others that are. City Forward Collective hopes that these stories will create some productive pressure for more schools to step up.

Isral DeBruin, Director of Strategy & Communication at City Forward Collective, shared that “the most energizing thing about this project has been seeing the level of dedication and resiliency in many school communities.” He reflected on how many students, parents, teachers, and school leaders immediately stepped up, came together, and pushed forward to keep everyone safe, cared-for, and learning.

At the same time, Isral found himself surprised by the wide variety of approaches schools have taken. While many have used tools like Zoom and Google Classroom, each school has done things a little differently. For example: Highland Community School found ways to get students and families hands-on in ways that replicate the school’s Montessori approach at home. At Milwaukee Excellence Charter School , teachers used food delivery apps to deliver incentives to students who exceeded expectations. And two of Milwaukee’s smallest schools – Malaika Early Learning Center and Christ-St. Peter Lutheran School – used a combination of online and paper/pencil materials to engage students.

While there are many more inspiring examples, City Forward Collective’s count indicates that less than half of Milwaukee students had access to such learning opportunities during the spring 2020 semester.

As such, Isral and the team leave us with a call to action:

● For Milwaukee residents: Demand the schools you and your children deserve. Consider joining organizations like Power to the Parents, Leaders Igniting Transformation, Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope, and Common Ground, which have been advocating for more educational opportunity for Milwaukee students during COVID-19.

● For Milwaukee schools: Be ready for fall. Public health experts have made it clear that even once we return to in-person school, future interruptions are inevitable. Distance learning is here to stay, at least until a vaccine is widely available. Every single school needs a strong plan for how it will serve students and families no matter what.

If you’d like to learn more about City Forward Collective and stay up to date, visit or find them on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.