Educator Q&A: Rob Kalpinski at Juvenile Justice Center says his students ‘want to be successful, just like everyone’
Rob Kalpinski is a social studies and civics educator at Vel Phillips Juvenile Justice Center School (JJC). Wauwatosa School District staff provides a full-day school experience at JJC for 80-to-200 teenagers who are adjudicated or awaiting trial in the Milwaukee County Children’s Court building.
Kalpinski recently invited volunteers from SecureFutures – Pete Schumacher, Kent Demien and Tyler Senfleben, all from Cleary Gull Advisors, as well as our own Pat Rorabeck – to lead 24 students at JJC through a competitive and thought-provoking stock market game. While outside our typical Money Sense and Money Coach financial education lessons, the experience proved to be enlightening to students as well as volunteers.
Inspired by this classroom experience, we reached out to Kalpinski to share more about his background, his students and the wider impact of financial know-how on their lives.
SecureFutures: You were a teacher at Wauwatosa West H.S. (for 14 years) before joining the staff at JJC. Can you describe that transition?
“I taught A.P. classes. I had the top of the top kids … At a certain point in time, you need to grow professionally in a different way. I used to be in law enforcement, before getting into education; I worked with kids as a juvenile police officer in the state of Illinois for four years. That led me to teaching altogether.
“I like working with kids who need the help the most. You get an A.P. kid, they’re just going to do it. The kids here, a lot of times, they’ve been sent out of the room, they’ve been suspended, or no one really has listened to them. Not all of them. But if I’m able to make a connection and help them see how successful they can be, it’s amazing. And the amount of brain power they have! Some of the smartest kids in all my years of teaching are in this building.”
What are differences in working at the Juvenile Justice Center compared with ‘Tosa West? And how are kids the same?
“Here [at JJC], there are no weapons in the building, cops have to lock them up before they walk in. No cell phones, which is real nice. If there’s an issue, there are juvenile correction officers outside of our doors. Kids, for the most part, want to be in the classroom. Otherwise, they’re stuck in their room. You do have to get used to [the fact] that you can’t leave unless someone buzzes you out. You also have the perspective of the materials you use, that the pencils all come back [after a lesson].
“One thing that comes to mind is that these students want to be challenged. They want to learn. That’s what I want people to understand. They want to be successful. Just like everyone.”
“The Stock Market Game really empowers them. They see, ‘I’m making money, I’m doing the research,’ and then they have the power to make decisions. … We invited [SecureFutures] and the kids got pizza. They don’t get food like that usually, which was cool. (Kalpinski is pictured in green at center. Also pictured, from left: Pat Rorabeck, Tyler Senfleben, Pete Schumacher, Kalpinski, Kent Demien and JJC educator Rachel Ledezma.)
“Each of these [SecureFutures volunteers] who came, they had their own personality and it just worked. They individually sat down and everyone just started talking. For the kids, it was so positive. They felt so empowered. After … the students were explaining stock tables, showing me things they learned that I didn’t know. They were very appreciative of it. They fed off each other. The kids are very thankful. The adults in the building are, too.”
What are your big takeaways from this partnership and for your students?
“It’s important for people to see our kids in action. For people from SecureFutures to come see them, it’ll help build better community relations. … As a teacher, it was like [they were] coming in with a lesson plan. And the whole experience was organic. Everything just happened. It’s the way teaching should be. This is what learning should look like.”
It is the mission and vision of SecureFutures to empower all teens with financial education and resources. Let us know if you have students who could benefit from personal finance lessons led by volunteers from your business community. Contact our Program Director Kristen Ruhl today at firstname.lastname@example.org or (414) 273-8101.