One of the best emails I've gotten so far this month arrived from a teacher I don't know, at an MPS school I've never visited.
"Dear Bobby Tanzilo," it read, "My students have really enjoyed using their new dictionaries! They are taking pride in learning new words. I have one student who is basically a non-reader, but he is learning to read new words by matching pictures to words. It's one of his favorite activities to do with a partner.
"We just finished a writing prompt and I was very impressed with my students' final copies. They really scoured the dictionaries to find new words. When correcting the other third grade class' work, I noticed that their words were not nearly as colorful.
I get these every month or so. The best ones arrive with pictures, too; like the ones Ms. T sent with her message. These show a class of 8-year-old MPS kids working with their new dictionaries.
The books were purchased with money raised from ordinary folks like you and me on DonorsChoose.org. In December, six donors pledged $577 to buy dictionaries for Ms. T's class (some obviously gave way more than I did!). In late August, 10 days before the first day of class, she set up the project, writing...
"'Look it up.' As a child, my parents and teachers empowered me to find the answer to my questions instead of just telling me. I want to empower my students as well. Right now I have about 10 dictionaries that are not appropriate for my students. A class set will empower my students to learn.
"I cannot wait for this school year to begin! I have a class of curious, funny, eager to learn 8-year-olds. They question everything! These students just soak up knowledge and want to know more. I am so excited to teach them!"
Every now and again I visit the DonorsChoose site and search for a project at an MPS school that looks like it has a chance of getting fully funded and I make a donation.
It's usually a relatively small amount and it's the feeling of a bunch of us chipping in – working together – to fund a good project that I like best. (That, and doing a small part to help Milwaukee's students and teachers get what they need, of course.) Like Kickstarter, you only pay if the total amount is raised.
Only once have I donated to a project at my child's school. A couple times I've given to projects that a neighbor of mine, who is a teacher, has posted for her classroom.
Another time I gave to a language school attended by my nephew. Still other times, I just picked a school or a project that hit home for some reason. I liked Ms. T's project because it was aimed at helping kids boost their reading and writing skills.
After I post this, I'm going back to DonorsChoose to make another pledge. I'm hoping to find something at a school that I often drive past, like, say, Siefert. But I'll take a minute to look around and see what's out there before I decide.
Maybe you'd consider doing the same thing today. Every little bit helps and you can have the satisfaction of seeing your contribution at work via notes and photographs straight from the classroom.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.