by Stephanie L. Meyer (who was also a Wildcat, but at a different school)
Call it fate. Call it an accident. Call it whatever you want. What is certain is that an undying love for Alexander Hamilton High School has called six Wildcat women back to work in the very same building they once entered every day for four consecutive years as teenage girls.
Less than a decade after Hamilton was built, its walls echoed with the sounds of Coreen Dziewit’s penny loafers as she scurried to the various activities in which she was involved including student government, drama crew, gymnastics, and swim. But she wasn’t the only one: “[At that time] a majority of the students were involved in at least one extracurricular… students usually hung out in the building after school to meet with supportive teachers and friends,” said Dziewit, who continued to reminisce about other past policies and traditions. “We had an open lunch hour, so we would walk to McDonald’s, go home for lunch, or go for a drive with our boyfriends. Girls would take home economics, and boys would take woodshop. We had typewriters, not computers. We had uniforms for gym, and we had to shower together after class. And, above all, we hated the Pulaski Rams.” Ironically, Dziewit’s first husband and the father of her two sons, whom she met in high school, and who would sometimes come to Hamilton to pick Dziewit up during “open lunch,” was one of those despised Pulaski Rams. Dziewit has been working for MPS for 24 years, 14 of them at Hamilton, first as a special education teacher, and now as the transition coordinator.
Another Hamilton student of this same time period who couldn’t go home for “open lunch” was Bridgett Franklin–Hamilton’s current parent coordinator and Black Student Union advisor– because she had been bussed there from the other side of town in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s 1979 decision forcing MPS schools to desegregate, which resulted in mostly Black students having to board yellow busses and leave their neighborhoods daily. For these reasons, Franklin explained, she and other Black students at Hamilton at the time had to stick together because they were often chased to and from the bus stop, sometimes enduring racial slurs and threats of violence, in addition to what happened inside the school building where they were frequently kicked out of class and/or suspended. At the time, Franklin was involved in track, which kept her wanting to come back to school every day; perhaps that is why she is now also Hamilton’s track and cross-country coach. Franklin explained, “We still have a lot to do for our kids. We need to work for more equity for students of color as far as education and support go. Although Hamilton has come a long way, I would like to see more staff of color, so the school is more representative of its student body. I believe Hamilton is a much safer environment for students of color than it was before.” Franklin pointed out later that, despite some of its basic unfairness, she still appreciated certain aspects of the open lunch policy: “To go outside and get some fresh air was so refreshing, and it gave you time to take a breather if you were bothered by someone or something. Knowing the popcorn truck was at the top of the hill selling hotdogs was the best.” And, on an even lighter note, Franklin commented that on some of those days when she was walking to the popcorn truck at the top of the hill, she was wearing “click clack shoes and designer pumps,” trying to look cute.
It was 1980s-style flats with no socks for Bari Svoboda when she was a Wildcat; she is now a 16-year veteran art teacher at Hamilton who ended up in the very classroom where she once studied art with her favorite teacher, Mr. Kunz, who “allowed [her] to enjoy and explore [her] creative side in drawing, painting, and cartooning” as well as “helping [her] to love school and inspiring [her] to become a teacher.” Svoboda’s memories of high school include laughing at the science teacher whose pants fell down one day, falling asleep to films in social studies, and looking forward to chicken patty day like students do now. Svoboda is proud to point out that Hamilton was as diverse when she was a student as it is now that she is a teacher.
In the 90s, Carrie Guzinski transferred to Hamilton from West Milwaukee—where she had skipped a lot of classes wearing whichever shoes went best with her outfit, be they Vans, Nikes, or sandals–after her family moved into the city: “I received a ‘Joe Clark’ welcome from the Hamilton principal. He screamed at me about attendance and grades, and all I could do was cry because I was so scared. He went to every one of my classes to make sure I was there and checked with every teacher to make sure I was turning in all of my work. He was my savior, plain and simple. My GPA by the time I graduated was a 3.8…All of my children have graduated from here…This school continues to be my savior, with all of the wonderful people I have met and now call friends,” said Guzinski, who now works in the main office, following in the footsteps of her aunt, Linda Fabian, who was once head secretary.
Tiffany Hagey, in fact, was in the same Hamilton graduating class in the 90s as Guzinski’s sister. Hagey was well-known for her prowess in basketball as a high school student, and could be seen traveling around the building (but of course never traveling on the basketball court) wearing her favorite footwear, her Nike Air Swoopes, named for Sheryl Swoopes, the first player signed to the WNBA, and the first woman to get a signature Nike basketball shoe. After graduating from Hamilton, Hagey started attending St. Mary’s to play college basketball; however, soon, her ankles were taking a beating, so she transferred to UWM. One day, she was working at Subway when Guzinski’s aunt Fabian came in, found out Hagey was getting certified to teach, “orchestrated the…hire, and, the next thing [she] knew, [she] was a long-term sub at Hamilton” [which evolved into a full-time position]. During Hagey’s tenure at Hamilton, where she has been teaching for 17 years, she has tried diligently to keep alive the traditions that were around when she was a younger Wildcat: “Homecoming Week, including the Penny Wars, the mums, the tailgate, and the pep rally were all traditions that [the gym teacher at the time] taught me,” Hagey said. And, like Svoboda, she is teaching in a classroom in which she once took the subject she now teaches; unlike Svoboda, who is now teaching in her favorite teacher’s classroom, Hagey is teaching in the former classroom of Mr. Schulz, of whom she was once “deathly afraid,” but who eventually turned into one of her mentors.
One of Hamilton’s most recent staff members, guidance counselor Brady Allen, is also a member of its 2009 graduating class, a class whose signature look would not have been complete without its all-white, fresh Air Force Ones AKA Dookies (as they are known in Milwaukee). After she received her BA from Lane College in criminal justice, she earned an MA in school counseling from Mount Mary. She is working with students whose last names begin with the letters M-R: “Being back at Hamilton has brought back good memories of being a part of the track and field team, JROTC, African dancing, and the UWM Talent Search program. Hamilton High School will always be a place of family, traditions, and educational success. I am proud to be an original Wildcat,” Allen said.
One can only wonder how many current Hamilton students will be back as staff twenty years from now…and what kind of shoes they will be wearing.