Indy school program tackling out-of-class issues

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The city is investing $7.5 million in a new school curriculum to address out-of-class issues they say make learning more difficult. This includes issues such as mental health care needs, food and housing.

The program is called City Connects and will be organized by the Center for Dynamic Schools at Marian University and Boston Collegewhere the program started.

“If the student comes to class every day without having eaten, you can set up a million academic interventions, and that just won’t fix the problem,” said Jillian Lain, coordinator of City Connects Midwest.

Essentially, if basic needs are not met, students cannot learn.

“City Connects not only talks about academic challenges, but also addresses extracurricular factors like family needs,” Lain explained.

City Connects places a trained coordinator, such as a social worker or counselor, in each school to understand each student’s needs.

“They start with a review of the whole class and then they develop personalized service plans based on each child’s needs,” said Patrick McAlister, director of the city’s Office of Education and Innovation.

The hope is that these individualized plans will address the root causes of the issues that hinder learning.

“It will connect families and students to the mental health resources they need, the food resources they need, the after-school programs they need,” McAlister explained.

The money to help fund City Connects in Indy comes from the $150 million in U.S. bailout funds Indianapolis received to use over the next few years. The $7.5 million will fund the program through 2024. It will launch in 12 schools in the Far East this fall.

“In many communities where violence is part of it, social needs, access to food, access to mental health are all root causes,” McAlister said.

The IUPUI Polis Center will help the city understand the results of this program through its data collection. Lain said it would take at least three years to collect measurable information.

“Results are something we really start looking at in year 3, 4, 5,” Lain explained. “So come year 3, I think those results will be more measurable and really able to be seen in a wider field. It is the intention that in Grade 3 we will be able to examine these larger outcomes from the student data we collect.

According Boston College websitestudents involved in the City Connects program are less likely to drop out of school, have higher standardized test scores and higher report card scores.