In the Classroom

'Education Weekend' will aim to inform and inspire

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

A coalition of Indianapolis community groups next month will host the city’s first Education Weekend, an event focused on inspiring students to attend college or explore careers and enliven support for public education.

Organizers, led by the Central Indiana Education Alliance, hope it will become an annual event. The wide-ranging activities planned for May 16 to 18 will involved churches, retail businesses, universities, libraries and others in an effort to spark conversations about education, introduce learning opportunities to the community and encourage students to dream big.

Part of the purpose of the event is public relations: spreading some good news about public education in the city. New Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, who did not attend the press conference, has said several times since coming on board last fall that the district needs to do a better job of telling its success stories to try to counteract stories about the districts academic struggles and other troubles.

The Central Indiana Education Alliance, formerly known as the Talent Alliance, is a coalition of Indianapolis-area leaders in business, government, education and non-profits aimed at producing a more educated workforce.

“We have to constantly raise awareness of educational opportunity,” said IUPUI Chancellor Charles Bantz, speaking for a group of community leaders who held a press conference today.

Bantz and other organizers said many in Indianapolis are unaware that a significant number of college freshman are first in their families to go beyond high school. Indianapolis children need to know that they have the opportunity to go to college or enter careers they might not even know exist, they said, and some need a road map for how to make it there.

“Those who have educated parents and grandparents, without a thought, attend college,” said Jamal Smith, executive director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission and an event co-chair. “The reverse tends to be true, too.”

Education Weekend has four major components:

  • A panel discussion on equity, quality and success in education. Pegged to the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision integrating schools, panelists will include Rabbi Brett Krichiver and Karega Rausch of The Equity Project at Indiana University. It will be held May 16 at 10 a.m. at Marian University. Organizers also are aiming for 150 “touch points,” such as sermons, conversations or other education-related activities, at churches, mosques and synagogues across the city during the weekend.
  • The Education Weekend Equity Awards for community leaders who have impacted education. The new awards are sponsored by the Indianapolis Rotary Club and will be presented by the Central Indiana Education Alliance to winners who are “unsung heroes” in education, outstanding school administrators, top teachers or standout students. The awards will be held on May 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the Children’s Museum.
  • An exhibition of science, technology, engineering, art and math activities for children and adults at the Fashion Mall at Keystone. On May 17 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. presentations and activities in robotics, chemistry, crafts, computer touch screen painting, music, art and dance will be on display. In addition, information will be offered on credit recovery programs, college scholarships and career exploration.
  • A special presentation of the film “Remember the Titans.” To be held May 18 at 2 p.m. at the central branch of the Indianapolis Public Library, the movie showing will be accompanied by a chance to meet the players from Arsenal Tech High School’s state champion basketball team and learn about book recommendations for kids.

Smith, himself an Arsenal Tech coach, said the team’s experience is a good example for the community of a success story that could inspire children across the city.

While turning around its basketball performance from a losing record and small crowds to a state title before a packed house last month at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Smith said Arsenal’s players underwent personal transformations that were an even better story.

The team has a combined grade point average of about 3.0, Smith said. Beyond basketball and schoolwork, the players also got active in community service. They chose a cause each year. This year it was fighting cancer, so they visited hospitals to try to lift the spirits of cancer patients. In addition, he said, the team read to children, cleaned up the neighborhood and generated a new community spirit with their outstanding play.

It’s the sort of story Smith said he hoped the Education Weekend would spread because people in the city, and other young students pondering their futures, should hear them.

“There was an underlying story in all the positive things those young men do off the court,” he said. “Find me a college team that does that much off the court. Not very many people know about these stories.”



New program aims to make advocates out of Memphis high schoolers

PHOTO: Campaign for School Equity
Students discuss advocacy topics during their session at Fairley High School, one of 10 schools in Shelby County participating in the program.

When it comes to conversations about education policy, students are often the least heard.

But amplifying young voices is the goal of a new program launched by two Memphis-based advocacy groups, Campaign for School Equity and Latino Memphis.

“I joined the group because of things that are going on around school, and I believe that we as leaders can change it,” said Angel Smith, 16, a senior at Hillcrest High School, one of 10 schools in the program. “I want to change how our school does discipline … and learn why some schools have more money than others.”

Many students feel powerless to improve conditions at their schools, said Katie Martin, who will oversee the program as advocacy manager for Campaign for School Equity. “It is so exciting to help them discover their own voices and realize that they can have a direct impact on the issues that matter to them,” she said.

About 100 high school students from Fairley, Martin Luther King Preparatory, Hillcrest, Trezevant and Southwest Early College High will take a monthly class on topics ranging from advocacy strategies to political campaign development.

Beginning in November, high-schoolers from Cordova, Wooddale, White Station, Kingsbury, and Southwind will also have classes at their schools.

Mendell Grinter, executive director of Campaign for School Equity, said students have already expressed interest in pushing for better school facilities and more discipline practices based on restorative justice.

The goal is for students to help shape Campaign for School Equity’s legislative platform and run their own school-based advocacy campaigns. In December, students will vote on priorities for the upcoming legislative season, Grinter said.

Students will take courses on research, writing opinion pieces, advocacy methods and campaign development. They also will meet with their local representatives, such as Memphis City Councilwoman Patrice Robinson, who will speak with Hillcrest High students in late October.

Campaign for School Equity is funding the program, and students were selected based on their interest and school recommendations.

Grinter said the program marks a shift in his group’s priorities. Formerly known as the Tennessee chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Campaign for School Equity has focused on promoting school choice for black families and engaging Memphis clergy around education.

“There are programs in Memphis to reach parents and community members and get them involved with advocacy, but not really students,” Grinter said. “We’re really going to double down on creating that space.”

Latino Memphis is an advocacy group for the city’s Hispanic and Latino communities and is working with Campaign for School Equity to include Latino students. 

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.