Madison’s East High School is one of the most diverse schools in Wisconsin. Its students come from a variety of races, religions, and social classes. The potentially divisive aspects of the student body don’t phase Principal Michael Hernandez. Instead, he is using them to build a community within the school and bring the outside community in.
Hernandez says that the responsibility of providing for 1,700 students weighs on him. But, with 200 faculty and staff members helping him, the impact he’s been able to make is palpable. He has initiated many improvement projects throughout the school. For example, the food pantry that serves meals to students in need. East High partners with many Madison businesses and organizations to make these types of projects possible. Hernandez and the entire East High staff foster an inclusive community that continues to grow.
The current political climate feeds the heaviness of his responsibility. As the child of an illegal immigrant, Hernandez understands the fears that many students bring with them to school. His priority is to make East High a resource and haven for students. Despite backlash from conservatives, Hernandez stood his ground. East High created spaces for students to openly discuss their worries. They also brought in immigration lawyers to aid with paperwork.
Producer Alejandro Alonso Galva spoke with Jenny Peek, author of the Isthmus cover story chronicling the principal’s far-reaching impact. They discuss these and the many other community engagement projects East High has embarked on.