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Madison Metropolitan School District

Vel Phillips Memorial High School Celebrates New Namesake with Interactive Curriculum

Days into the new school year, staff and students at Vel Phillips Memorial High School were already learning the significance of the school’s new namesake. One of the state’s most notable civil rights leaders, Velvalea “Vel” Phillips made history for her devotion to fair housing, education, and employment. On Sept. 12, students spent part of their second hour classes discussing the values Vel Phillips demonstrated and how they connected to them personally. 

Memorial Instructional Coach Christina Natalello helped develop the schoolwide curriculum with social studies teachers, who gathered primary sources to craft a lesson modeled after AVID's Critical Reading Process. In this lesson, students worked in small groups to review quotes and photos of Vel Phillips, took notes and discussed what the documents signified about her, and reflected on why it matters today.

“I think it's important for students to be educated about Ms. Phillips and her accomplishments so that they can be proud to belong to a place named after someone who did so much for the lives of Wisconsinites,” Natalello said. “She is an inspiration and her work specifically on fair housing left an immeasurably positive impact.”

In Junior Teagan Madden’s class, students met in groups to analyze some of Phillips’ most notable quotes, such as “you make a living by what you earn, but you make a life by what you give,” and “dream big dreams.” 

“She really just wanted to help people feel safer, and let them know that you can make a change," Madden said, adding that Phillips' focus on intersectional diversity was meaningful. 

Junior Syd Davidson shared how Phillips’ persistence in her fight for civil rights resonates today.

“What was meaningful to me was seeing how much she cared about her community and how far she went to make things happen,” Davidson said. “I think a lot of people in my group felt she represented the things that they personally want, and our school as a whole wants today.”

The Vel Phillips Memorial High School community will continue to honor and demonstrate the civil rights leader throughout the year through school events, ceremonies, curriculum, artwork, and more.