Christel House expands postsecondary support program to traditional public, charter schools

Blue and yellow graduation caps are in the air with a stadium and and lights in the background.
Christel House International has touted the success of its College and Careers program Christel House Watanabe High School. Now the organization is expanding the initiative to four new Indianapolis high schools. (Nat Umstead/Getty Images)

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When JayLah Edmondson’s grades and mental health started to decline in the fall, the University of Indianapolis student reached out to the same counselor who helped her through high school.

She was failing her classes, she told Kara Moreland, a college and career administrator for the network of Christel House charter schools in Indianapolis. Edmondson remembers what she told her.

“‘You may be failing at this moment, but I’m glad that you reached out when you did so that way we can get the proper resources and help for the next semester,’” Edmondson recalled Moreland saying.

Moreland, the coach Edmondson had as a student at Christel House Watanabe High School, is part of Christel House International’s College and Careers program that follows students for five years after high school graduation. Its goal is to ensure that students are successful after they graduate high school. Now it’s expanding.

The Christel House International nonprofit network of schools — which runs schools internationally and charter schools in Indianapolis — will partner with four more Indianapolis schools to bring these coaches to their high school students.

The roughly $2.5 million investment — funded through Christel House International and other philanthropic support — will provide coaches at Lawrence North High School, Lawrence Central High School, Herron-Riverside High School, and Irvington Preparatory Academy.

The counselors will support students through at least August 2028.

The investment could help address students’ need for ongoing support after high school graduation in a state that has in recent years pushed to expand both college access and the postsecondary career pipeline.

“What we hope is that this is really building off the great work of these high schools and supporting these students and graduates — as well as supporting state and local goals for postsecondary completion as well as the needs that we see in the job market,” said Caitlin Teague, vice president of programming and services at Christel House International. “It’s really our holistic kind of contribution to be able to work across schools to do what works best for students and for the local community.”

Christel House hopes student counseling program replicates success

The College and Careers program began with Christel House’s school in Venezuela 18 years ago, and launched in its Indianapolis high school with the Class of 2014.

Coaches in the program check in periodically with students even after they leave high school. These check-ins can range from meetings over lunch to coaches visiting the students or students coming back to their high school.

Officials hope the program eventually reaches about 1,800 students. In Lawrence Township, one coach will work with students in the district’s AVID program at both district high schools. The other two participating schools will receive one coach each.

That could mean more support for students facing college or career crises like Edmondson, who worked with her coach to find mental health support and ensure someone on campus could hold her accountable. Because of the help, this spring semester has gone better for her.

“I passed all of my classes,” Edmondson said. “And the resources that we put in place ultimately helped me get to where I am now.”

The Class of 2025 will be the first cohort at these new schools to benefit from coaches that will guide them as they enter college or the workforce.

Christel House officials point to the positive outcomes of the program at Watanabe High School.

Officials point to state data showing that Watanabe graduates from the classes of 2014 through 2017 had higher average rates of employment five years after graduation than Indianapolis Public School graduates and the average for graduates statewide.

Watanabe High School graduates from the Class of 2016 who remain employed in Indiana five years after graduation also have a higher median income than graduates from all 11 Marion County school districts or statewide, according to state data.

The four schools partnering with Christel House are hoping it will help students post-graduation and provide a way to track the success of students long after they’ve left.

“When you’re focused on the day-to-day — we’ve got to get these kids across the stage, we’ve got to get these credits earned, we’ve got to get these tests taken — it can be hard to dedicate the time and the manpower that it takes to support students after graduation,” Deanna Dehner, chief academic officer for the Irvington Community Schools charter network, said at a kickoff for the initiative on Tuesday. (The Irvington charter network includes Irvington Preparatory Academy.)

“This is what we’ve been looking for — the thing we’ve been talking about for years, they’re doing it,” Dehner recalled telling her colleagues. “So let’s work with them and learn from them.”

Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Lawrence Township schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at apak-harvey@chalkbeat.org.

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