Graduation at UW-Madison
Success in the Midst of a Pandemic
|Kanesha Freiberg has had her heart set on an education
career since she was young and is now fulfilling that dream.
individuals who wanted to pursue higher education, especially during my middle-school years,” Freiberg emphasized. “It’s super hard to figure out who you are as
an individual. And so the PEOPLE Program from the start connected me with a community that supported me and uplifted me and were there for me in pursuit of my
goals and aspirations.”
Whenever possible, it seemed that Freiberg would seek out and fill teacher-like positions during her high school career.
“I was always involved with MSCR,” Freiberg said. “And so I would work with kids after school on homework assignments or just play with them on the
playground. It just became routine for me. I always worked with MSCR in some way, shape or form, whether that would be helping them with their summer school
programs with the kids or if it was working on one leisurely activity with the students.”
As she progressed through high school at La Follette, Freiberg solidified her plans to become an elementary school and a special education teacher in part due to
the scholastic experience of her older brother who had a disability.
“I have a brother who is on the spectrum and traditional education was not helpful for him at all,” Freiberg said. “He is 29-years-old now. And so, going back then,
from what I can remember as his younger sister, he didn’t like school. He didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t something that he looked forward to because he felt like an
outsider. Often times, they were pulled out of class and then he would have a separate kind of job or role to assist the school. He would often times be found
gardening or picking up trash. And so he was completely left out of the school as a whole because of his disabilities. That was something that stuck out to me and I
wanted to shape in any way, shape or form as a future educator and make sure that like students didn’t experience going through schooling in the same way that my
brother experienced it.”
At La Follette, Freiberg prepared for the collegiate experience through UW-Madison PEOPLE and the AVID/TOPS Program. She applied to and was accepted by UW-
Madison and was on her way as a PEOPLE Scholar and a tuition scholarship.
Including student practicum and student teaching, it took Freiberg six years to graduate. Part of it was due to the math requirement that she had to complete in order
to graduate with her education degree.
“The math programs in the School of Education are really hard,” Freiberg said. “That kept me from graduating on time, so to speak. They created a different way or a
different curriculum for people inside the School of Education just because they know it is rigorous, very hard to understand. And it was something that you wanted
to make sure that you are skilled in because you are going to be teaching this kind of stuff. I took the Stanford curriculum route that still taught the same things as the
traditional math did, but it was a lot more hands-on. It was a lot more focused on how we were going to best support our students as future educators. That teaching
style really resonated with me.”
What was also difficult to overcome at times was the sense of isolation that students of color can experience on the Madison campus with over 40,000 other
students swirling around you.
“Feeling isolated was very real,” Freiberg said. “I found it really hard to feel included when the people who you are sitting in class with don’t necessarily share the
same identity or the same experiences that you do and so often times they will connect with others more than they connected with you and you would feel like you
are being isolated or wouldn’t get invited to that study group or it was really hard and you have to make an extra effort to make yourself seem up-to-speed with them
or keep up with them in order to even be invited to study groups and things like that. I didn’t necessarily form any study groups with my peers. I reached out to
people I knew in passing who were also students of color here because it was easier to create those study groups and those different positive habits of people who
are also going through the same things you are.”
But although it was tough, as the saying goes, the things that don’t kill you — or make you drop out — only make you stronger.
“I really enjoyed UW-Madison,” Freiberg said. “It took me longer than most students to finish. But along that journey, I did learn a lot about myself, a lot about other
people and about how I fit into this world. I just knew that in going through all of the hardships and learning experiences that I did in college, it just prepared me to
be a better citizen, a better teacher, better sister and better partner someday down the line. I am very thankful for my experience at UW-Madison.”
In spite of the isolation and the obstacles, Freiberg was slated to finish strong in spring 2020 and walk across the stage at Camp Randall with friends, family and
fellow graduates in attendance. And then COVID-19 struck.
Next issue: Student teaching, COVID-19 and beyond
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Kanesha Freiberg has wanted to be a teacher since about as far back as she can remember and
fulfilled that dream through the guidance and presence of the UE-Madison PEOPLE Program
throughout her academic life.
As a little girl. Freiberg would play teacher.
“I can remember even as a little girl, some people play with dolls,” Freiberg said with a chuckle. “I
was always playing teacher with siblings as my students. That is something that I always knew that
I had a passion for and moving forward, I knew it was something that I wanted to pursue in higher
education and I did.”
Having a dream and being able to get there are two different things. PEOPLE created an
environment for Freiberg that allowed her to pursue her dream when she entered the program in
“One of the biggest challenges for me was to connect with school or at least likeminded