Marion County has the highest concentration of homeless students in Indiana. During the 2019 school year, Marion County alone represented 26% of homeless student enrollment across the state of Indiana but only 14.5% of total student enrollment.

This over representation of students impacted by homelessness in our county requires a strategic and thoughtful approach to community partnerships.

Brightlane has been working alongside shelter partners since our founding in 2001 and in schools for the past decade. However, in the past three years, we have doubled our school partners, and today, they represent two-thirds of our more than 30 partnerships. During this period of growth, we’ve also shifted from partnering with individual schools to district-level partnerships.

Growth in schools is rooted in the knowledge that only 12% of students live in shelters, and we must connect with students where they are in order to support them. The National Center for Homeless Education shared the following snapshot of primary nighttime residences of Indiana children and youth experiencing homelessness who are enrolled in public school.

Students Experiencing Homelessness

  • 77% – Doubled-up or sharing housing (i.e., temporarily sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or other reasons such as domestic violence.)
  • 12% – living in shelters, transitional housing, or awaiting foster care
  • 7% – living in motels or hotels
  • 4% unsheltered (i.e., living in cars, parks, campgrounds, temporary trailers – including FEMA trailers – or abandoned buildings.)

We partner at a district level with IPS, Lawrence, Pike, Warren, and Washington Townships to strategically identify schools with the student populations demonstrating the highest mobility from year to year. This means that we can shift our programs and staffing within the district when the population of highly mobile students shifts significantly between schools. It also means that in some districts, like IPS, we have a presence in schools where homeless and highly mobile students move frequently between.

High mobility is tied to lower academic achievement. The average child experiencing homelessness moves three or more times per year, and it can take four to six months to recover academically after each move. According to a study by the Center for Housing Policy and MacArthur Foundation, for hyper-mobile students (those who have moved 8 or more times), each additional move increases the odds of having academic or behavior problems in school by nearly 85%.

As we grow into more schools, we remain focused on our shelter and community partners because these partnerships play a critical role in program and impact. Many of the students we work alongside during the school day reside in shelters where we provide our programs after school. For some students, this means that they get double the support. For others, this means that when they move out of a shelter or from school to school, we still get to work with them. Our strategic presence in schools and shelters creates consistency for students and, ultimately, greater stability.

We see the consistency and stability for students that we create impact outcomes for each day. Maddie, a six-year-old, struggled so much last year that she was held back. This year, she is receiving support from Brightlane staff during the school day and after school in the shelter where she resides. She gets four days of focused and individualized intervention from us each week, and her guardian benefits from our case management services.

In the first semester of this school year, we’ve seen Maddie begin interacting with her teacher and her peers more confidently, and her language skills have improved significantly. She has gone from being unable to recognize letters to sounding out nonsense words on her own as we continue to focus on critical academic building blocks with her, such as early language awareness, foundational math logic, and appropriate classroom behavior.

Last school year, 90% of Brightlane Learning students maintained or improved their math skills, and 89% maintained or improved their language arts skills.