Linking up to improve school
Family: Married to Josh, a physical therapist at Beloit Clinic. They have two boys, 5 and 3.
On teaching math: She was inspired by her sixth-grade teacher. "I loved him and really started to love the math, so from then on, that was what I wanted to do. I was pretty much lucky that way."
Person she'd most like to have dinner with: Paul the apostle
Something you may not know about her: She went to college on a basketball scholarship. She could shoot the three.
Family: Married to Joe, who is director of culinary services at Promega in Madison. They have one son, 8.
Favorite book: "The Book of the Five Rings," a martial-arts-based tome that deals with five principles for living. Learned, her husband and another black belt run a karate school, World Champion Karate, at the YMCA.
Person she'd most like to have dinner with: Her great-grandmother Bernice Witte, the first person in her family to go to college. She also played violin, something she passed on to her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter. "She inspired me," Learned said.
JANESVILLE Shelly Learned was looking for a program to help students get through what might be the toughest year of school: ninth grade.
She came across Link Crew, a program that trains juniors and seniors to be big buddies of the incoming frosh.
Learned was talking to her principal at Craig High School, Mike Kuehne, about going to a presentation to learn about the program when fellow teacher Niki Shucha passed by.
"You wanna go?" Learned called to Shucha.
And so the partnership was born.
"This is so cool," is how Shucha remembers their reaction as they drove home after attending a presentation about Link Crew.
"When they got back, it was like having someone shot out of a cannon with ideas," Kuehne recalled. "They were just extraordinarily motivated to get this program up and running."
The two teachers were trained that spring and started their own program that summer, training the juniors and seniors over two days to link up with the freshman when school started.
"I just thought it was a pretty cool way to get kids engaged on that first day of school and really fun," Shucha said. "And it all had a purpose."
For three years now, whenever a ninth-grader needs help with homework, a shoulder to cry on or just a high five, they've been able to turn to someone older and wiser.
And whenever a ninth-grader feels alone among the throngs of students in the halls, he or she can look up and spot a familiar face.
Shucha and Learned keep the program simmering throughout the year with activities, such as last year's haunted house or their pre-exam "Cocoa and Cram" study events. One parent marveled at the hours the pair put in to make the programs happen.
It's hard to say no when the students are so enthusiastic, Learned said.
Learned is the high-spirited one. Shucha is "more grounded and can look at things from a different perspective," Learned said.
Together, they're a team.
Learned, a 1991 Craig grad, remembers that incoming freshmen often were the object of derision or even hazing. She came home to teach at Craig in 1999.
She came to believe that Craig needed something to help the freshmen. Now, they have it, and there's data to back that up.
First-semester freshmen F's have dropped from 351 the year before Link Crew began to 292 the first year and 154 the second year, Learned said.
Success has bred success, and Link Crew has now taken hold across town at Parker High School.
Shucha and Learned said that the program has an added bonus: The upperclassmen and women are learning what it takes to be leaders.