Newspaper Sections

Special Series


About SSFP

Where in Dane County?

Higher Price for Water will Help Madison Replace Pipes

by Mariama Bah, age 16

Keep an eye on your water bill—it might increase soon. Recently, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission voted unanimously to increase Madison’s water utility rate by 18 percent, ultimately raising the monthly cost by $4.

The proposal came from Madison Water Utility, whose debt has risen to $245 million due to recent maintenance costs. They hope the price hike will cover the cost of replacing about 400 miles of old pipes without taking on any more debt.

With the new increase, the average monthly water bill will rise from $29.92 to $33.90. However, the rate for some members of the community will be subsidized. For 5,500 households and 2,600 renters who make less than half the median income, there is eligibility for an experimental program. For example, the utility would offset by $8 monthly bill for a family of three that makes up to $46,400 a year. [Read More]

Telisa Yancy, Newly Hired President of American Family Insurance Group

by Yoanna Hoskins, age 17

The American Family Group is big and has around 13,000 employees within all five of their companies. Telisa Yancy is part of that group and will start her term on the first of January of 2023 as president of the American Insurance Group. Not only will she be the first person of color to have that role, she’ll also be the first woman.

Yancy became a member of the group in 2009 and has worked her way up the ranks. From marketing director, to marketing vice president, chief marketing officer, chief marketing officer, then to the current role of the president of American Family Insurance Direct.

All of Yancy’s hard work hasn't gone unnoticed, both in the workplace and the community. Bill Westrate, the CEO of the company said, “She’s built strong relationships with our agency owners and distribution partners, and has clearly demonstrated the flexibility, resilience and innovative thinking needed to lead during an ever-changing business and economic landscape.” She has won many awards and has had many roles, like being part of the board of directors for both the Deluxe Corporation and the National Public Radio. Yancy has also been listed as one of the most influential Black executives on three magazines: EBONY Power 100, Savoy, and Ad Age’s Woman to Watch. [Read More]

When United Way’s Annual Campaign Succeeds, the Entire Community Benefits

By Desteny Alvarez and Josepha Da Costa

Earlier this year, student reporters from Simpson Street Free Press had a chance to interview several longtime change-makers and volunteers. Our interviews were part of United Way’s centennial celebration. Let’s just say we learned a lot about our community and about United Way.

The first thing we learned was that “The Power of Many, Working for All” is much more than just a slogan. Here in Dane County, our local United Way puts those words into action. For example, did you know that every dollar donated to United Way returns more than six times that amount in total community impact? That statistic alone demonstrates efficiency and solid results. And it’s worth a deeper look. [Read More]

State of Wisconsin Issues PFAS Warnings for Dane County Fisheries

by Makaya Rodriguez, age 17

PFAS, also known as (poly-fluoroalkyl substances), are man-made chemicals. They were used on clothing, carpets, non-stick pans, cookware, and as firefighting foam. PFAS are made to be stain and water-resistant. These PFAS chemicals are being found in many Wisconsin bodies of water, specifically in Dane County.

Anglers are being advised to watch out for certain fish in lakes and rivers around Madison waters, such as Starkweather Creek, Lake Monona, Wingra Creek, Lake Waubesa, and Rock River. In these particular areas, officials have found levels of PFAS, and recommend not consuming walleye, largemouth bass, crappie, and northern pike more than once a month. Additionally, the consumption of fish such as yellow perch, pumpkinseeds, and bluegills is not advised more than once a week. Taking these precautions into consideration will help avoid the accumulation of PFAS in the human body. Black Earth Creek has seen especially high numbers of PFAS in brown trout. This raises concerns as the creek flows northwesterly, from Middleton into the Wisconsin River. [Read More]

Local Observatory Renamed For STEM Pioneer Jocelyn Bell Burnell

by Mariah Justice, age 17

“Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another,” said Greek philosopher Plato. With the renaming event on September 7 for the Bell Burnell Observatory— previously the Oscar Mayer Observatory—Madison has a new facility for cultivating the exploration of astronomy.

The history of the Bell Burnell Observatory dates back to 1880, when the director of the Washburn Observatory, located on University of Wisconsin-Madison's (UW) campus, felt there was too much student traffic for the University to only have one observatory. This notion spurred him to personally fund the construction of the student observatory, which was then called the Student Observatory. However, as Madison grew, light pollution obstructed both the Student and Washburn observatories, rendering the facilities obsolete. [Read More]

Dane County Students Gather to Discuss Climate Change at Second Annual Conference

by Desteny Alvarez, age 17

For the second year in row, students from around Dane County will gather to address climate change issues. The second annual Dane County high school climate action conference will take place at the Alliant Energy Center on Saturday, November 12.

The title for this year’s event is Gen Z: Meeting the challenge of Our Changing Environment. Local student members of the Dane County Youth Environmental Committee are helping plan the conference. A range of speakers and climate experts will make presentations and address topics of particular interest to young people.

“I learned a lot at last year’s conference” said Devika Pal, a student at Madison’s Memorial High School. “Now, I want to know more. I’m interested in learning what actions we can take to make a difference.” [Read More]

New Projects and Dedicated Volunteers Help Expand Dane County’s Newest Park

by Alan Cruz, age 17

On a recent summer evening, Simpson Street Free Press student reporters headed just south of Madison toward Oregon and Anderson Farm County Park. Pollinator gardens and the unveiling of public art attracted our attention to the park because we’ve been writing about those subjects this summer.

Established in 2014, Anderson Farm County Park is the newest park in the Dane County Parks system. At 310 acres, this is also one of our bigger parks. Anderson Farm Park is a mix of woodlands, agricultural fields, and a small prairie that was started in 2016. While the park is still being developed, new projects and new features are shaping up throughout this park.

We got to the park in time to see the unveiling of a new sculpture, which is located near the Union Road picnic area parking lot alongside the bike path. The sculpture honors the legacy of Gary Kalscheur, a long-time youth baseball coach and strong supporter of Anderson Farm County Park during its early days. [Read More]

Dream Ball Raises Scholarship Funds for Local Students

by Cristian Cruz

One of Madison’s signature events will take place on January 14th at Monona Terrace.

The “I Have a Dream” Ball honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And, after two years of gathering virtually, this year’s event will happen in person. The goal is to raise funds for college scholarships, which are awarded each spring.

For students at Simpson Street Free Press, this annual event is a tradition. We attend every year, and we look forward to it. The “I have a Dream” Ball is widely known as a truly fun event. There is good food, lots of interesting people, and a real sense of community and purpose. We think that’s because the people who attend know they are contributing to a great cause. [Read More]

New Land Purchase Will Protect Wildlife and Wetlands in Dane County

by Dulce Maria Vazquez, age 14

Groundswell Conservancy is a not-for-profit conservation group that recently bought 34 acres of wetland habitat in Dane County. The land is in the Town of Dunn near the Lower Mud Lake Natural Resource Area. This purchase will help groundswell achieve its mission of protecting wildlife habitats in Dane County and south-central Wisconsin.

Wetlands like the one recently purchased are areas that are flooded with water that can either be permanent or seasonal. These wetlands help manage floods, which is critical for the city of Madison's lakes. The landowners who sold the property wanted these lands to be protected.

Groundswell has to manage the property regularly to supply permanent habitat for ducks and other wildlife. The financing to obtain the land comes from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and a U.S Fish and Wildlife grant, which Ducks Unlimited administers. [Read More]

La Follette eSports Team Wins the High School State Championship

by Amare Smith, age 19

Similar to traditional sports, eSport involves players who like to compete and play games – except, eSport involves video games! The La Follette eSports team has been at the school for a little over two years. The Lancers eSports team competed in the high school state championship and recently won the competition. The game played was Super Smash Bros, a video game where players pick a character and fight against each other. Matthew Wright, the team captain, made a last-minute decision to choose a character other than his favorite, Captain Falcon, for the sudden death battle.

The CapTimes had a discussion with Wright on the State Championship and how he got involved with the team. Wright first heard about the group from word of mouth from his classmates and eventually met the coach, Mr. Pellien. Super Smash Bros was an addictive game and Wright progressively improved his skills with different characters as he played the game. Wright enjoyed attending practice and telling his teachers about it. He was an excellent student and didn’t fall behind in any of his subjects in school. To Wright, eSports was like a dream come true.

Competing in the state championship at Madison College was very special to Wright. The year before it happened, he went solo and was happy he made it to the top 16, but the team didn’t win first place. Either way, it was a great learning experience. He was happy to see the community and watch other people compete. Most importantly, Wright enjoyed his first time participating in a competition. This year, his second time around, he enjoyed how his team worked together and was able to secure first place. What Wright learned from his experience was the importance of teamwork and how it helps everyone improve their skills and communication. [Read More]

Open Meetings Violation Complaint Filed Against Belleville

by Sydney Steidl, age 16

A concerned citizen has accused the Village of Belleville of illegally meeting behind closed doors to consider and approve the sale of the Village’s former library in violation of the State’s Open Meetings Laws. The complaint, filed with the Dane County District Attorney’s office in early August, contained 10 separate allegations of open meetings violations.

The sale of the 6,300-square-foot building to a developer for $20,000 was approved as a result of closed meetings, despite the building being appraised at $210,000 only a year ago. This substantial difference has led many local residents to wonder what happened during the meetings and question the integrity of the deal.

One citizen, Jeff Larson, said he believes that other potential buyers would have offered more favorable terms for the library, and that this sale was not in the public’s best interest. “If the board believes this is such a great deal for the Village and its residents, why did it work so hard to hide information and prevent the public from sharing any input until after the decision was already made?” Larson said. [Read More]

City of Madison Continues to Make Progress in Composting Programs

by Mariama Bah, age 15

Citywide composting in Madison has had a challenging history, but supporters are still trying to make it a reality.

Compost is a mixture of decomposed organic matter typically used as fertilizer as it is high in nutrients for soil. Organic matter such as fruits and vegetables, grass clippings, and paper can be thrown into a pile and turned into compost. In turn, compost cuts methane emissions from landfills, conserves water, and reduces personal waste.

Madison has tried and failed to implement food composting programs. The city attempted to install curbside pick up services twice, but these programs quickly came to an end as food scraps were contaminated with non-organic materials like children's toys, coat hangers, and towels. [Read More]

New Transfer Options Available for Wisconsin Nursing Students

by Melanie Bautista, age 16

Madison Area Technical College (MATC) and the University of Wisconsin - Madison have come to an agreement to let transfer students from MATC with earned associates in nursing to earn a bachelor's degree at UW-Madison.

The program BSN @Home was created in 1996 to address shortage of bachelor-degree nurses. According to David Wahlberg at the Wisconsin State Journal, “Wisconsin could face a shortage of about 11,000 nurses by the year 2030.” The agreement between both colleges will allow a smoother transition into online courses for the nursing program and for current nurses who want to pursue a higher position in the medical field. With COVID-19 occurring, nursing jobs have been in high demand; 10 percent of nursing positions have become unoccupied.

The highest role in healthcare, nursing assistant, has a vacancy of 17.2 percent, higher than previous years. Turina Bakken, a provost of MATC, says, “ This new nursing agreement adds to that legacy as we work together to meet the critical nursing demand in our communities and create meaningful career options for our collective students.” This makes the nursing pathway much smoother. [Read More]

Land Purchase in Western Dane County Provides Public Access to Morton Forest

by Hiba Al-Quraishi, age 14

A generous gift from a private landowner made 22 years ago is prompting new conservation action in Dane County.

In 1999, 120 acres of Morton Forest were deeded to Dane County by Steve Morton, a retired chemist, and environmentalist. The land is about 2.5 miles south of the Town of Mazomanie. To create better access to Morton Forest, Dane County now plans to purchase 65 acres of land in the Village of Black Earth.

Similar to Morton Forest, this new piece of land in Black Earth has amazing vistas, as well as small farmlands, a stone quarry, and rock outcroppings. [Read More]

When Exploring Dane County’s Sugar River, Keep and Eye Out for Invasive Species

by Dayanara Flores Gonzalez, age 14

The Sugar River, also known as The Upper Sugar River Watershed, is located in Dane County and flows all the way down to the Rock River.

The Upper Sugar River Watershed Association works to protect the river from invasive species that can harm or push out native species and damage the ecosystem. Many rare and endangered native plants found in the river and its nearby wetlands are threatened. Most wetland animals depend on these native plants for food and shelter.

Some native species can disappear if a watershed loses its healthy wetlands. Recreational uses of wetlands include trapping, fishing, bird watching, and nature study. Healthy wetlands can help with keeping the water clean and safe for wildlife. Healthy wetlands also help control and prevent floods. [Read More]

Land Purchase Creates New Ice Age Trail Park

by Moises A. Hernandez, age 17

One of only eleven National Scenic Trails, the Ice Age Trail highlights unique beauty seen on a thousand-mile footpath in Wisconsin. The trail stretches from St. Croix Falls in Polk County to Sturgeon Bay in Door County and travels through 30 counties, including the County of Dane. That is where the county and both the Cities of Madison and Verona have proposed to pay $2.7 million for land that would fulfill connections missing in the trail.

This parcel is about 40 acres and is located west of Madison in a quickly-growing area that is covered by a forest containing mature oak. It is “a wonderful example of glacial geology,” according to the Director of Land Conservation for the Ice Age Trail Alliance, Kevin Thusius.

“The glacier ended right here and it left behind glacial till—a lot of rock and debris that created a nice hill,” he said. This parcel of land includes examples of landscape features like kettle ponds—where a piece of ice was left after the glacier melted away. A study completed in 2019 said the trail is used by about 2.3 million people each year, a number that has certainly “increased significantly since,” according to Thusius. [Read More]

Martin Luther King, Jr “I Have a Dream”
Event Supports Local Scholarships

by Josepha Da Costa, age 16

The annual “I Have a Dream” Ball is scheduled for January 15, 2022. This year’s event will again take place virtually. As always, the I Have Dream Ball will raise money to fund scholarships for local high school seniors and college students. And, as always, this cherished Madison tradition is organized and sponsored by the dedicated volunteers of Women in Focus.

My name is Josepha Da Costa and I am a junior at La Follette High School. I am also a teen editor at Simpson Street Free Press. I have attended the Women in Focus Ball with my Simpson Street colleagues several times over the years going back to when I was in 6th grade. [Read More]

Two-year-old Red Panda Finds New Home at Vilas Zoo

by Dilma Attidekou, age 8

There is a new red panda that has come to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. His name is Bandit and he is a very active two-year-old.

After two months of processing, Bandit arrived at the zoo from Ohio in early June. He had to undergo a few health checks and quarantine before he was allowed to be introduced to the public.

Tai, the female red panda at the zoo, and Bandit are slowly starting to get to know each other. Bandit is showing his curious personality by climbing trees and exploring his new home. Bandit was brought to Madison to join Tai after Tarei, another red panda at the zoo, died last year at the age of 19. [Read More]

Where Is the Sugar River?

by Dulce Maria Vazquez, age 13

The Sugar River runs throughout southern Wisconsin and ultimately feeds into the Rock River in Illinois. The start of its main branch is located in Mount Horeb in Dane County, close to Madison, Fitchburg, and Verona.

One of the Sugar River’s biggest feeder streams is Badger Mill Creek. The creek also begins in Madison and runs through Verona and Fitchburg. It finally reaches, and merges with, the Sugar River near Highway 151.

The Sugar River’s other note-worthy tributaries are the West Branch of the Sugar River and Mount Vernon Creek, which help make up the Upper Sugar River Watershed. The Upper Sugar River Watershed encompasses the section of the Sugar River that lies upstream of Bellville, Wisconsin. The whole watershed reaches across about 500,000 acres, or 760 square miles, of southern Wisconsin and the northern part of Illinois. [Read More]

UW Field House, a Madison Landmark — by Owen Ayite-Atayi, age 14

The UW Field House is a landmark building initially built in 1930. It serves as the home to the UW volleyball and wrestling teams. Other UW teams are included as a part of the Field House family, such as the basketball, boxing, and track and field teams. [Read More]

$2 Million Project Adds 22 Acres to Whitetail Ridge Park — by Sol Saray, age 10

Have you heard about the $2 million project in place to expand the parks on Madison's Northside? [Read More]

How Madison Became Wisconsin’s Capital City — by Jason Medina Ruiz, age 11

Madison was founded in 1836 and became Wisconsin’s state capital in 1838. Wisconsin was introduced as a state in 1848, the same year the campus of the University of Wisconsin was established in Madison. The downtown area of Madison was created on an isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona. An isthmus is a narrow strip of land between two bodies of water. The city was also named after James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. Madison resides on Ho-Chunk land, and they call it Taychopera or Dejope. This translates to “land of four lakes” in the Ho-Chunk language. [Read More]

Dane County Pursues Sustainability with New Solar Projects — by Yani Thoronka, age 16

In November of 2020, County Executive Joe Parisi announced new efforts regarding conservation and sustainability. The goal is for Dane County-owned facilities to run solely on renewable energy. In his proposal, Parisi spoke of converting about 90 acres of county land near Femrite Road, in Cottage Grove into a solar farm. This new solar farm is almost double the size of a solar field at the Dane County Regional Airport that opened two years ago. [Read More]

Don't Be Afraid of Every Coyote You See — by Dayanara Flores Gonzalez, age 14

Have you ever seen a coyote in a Madison park? Well you're in luck because it might not be real! These coyotes are made out of plastic and faux fur; they are also a new addition to the Canadian goose management program. [Read More]

Play Ball! New Youth Baseball League Launches in Madison — by Josepha Da Costa, age 17

On a sunny Saturday in early July, several Simpson Street reporters headed to Elver Park to watch a baseball game. It wasn’t just any game though; it was a little league game played by kids from all over Madison, including one of our own staff writers, Max Moreno! [Read More]

New Wisconsin River Bridge Will Improve Local Recreation — by Camila Cruz, age 14

In 2022, construction on a $4 million recreation-only bridge, connecting Dane County and Sauk City will begin. This bridge will go over the Wisconsin River, creating a beautiful sight. This bridge will replace a 100-year-old Sauk City rail bridge. The old bridge was taken down in 2018, because of its little use and problems with spring flooding. [Read More]