Earlier this month, we introduced Sparking Conversations, where we invited a small group of supporters to learn along with us as we explored our collaborative partnerships and what makes them successful. Brightlane’s Chief Operating and Program Officer, Kelly Coker, chatted with Jeremy Baugh, Brookside School #54’s principal; Jessica Dunn, Executive Director of Enrichment Programs for Indianapolis Public Schools; and Marvin Offett, Case Manager at Wheeler Mission Center for Women and Children.

Through Brightlane’s expansive presence in Indianapolis with school-day support and after-school programs in shelters and community centers, we are often a stable presence for students as they move between schools and shelters throughout the year. Brookside was the perfect host for this conversation because many Brookside students reside at Wheeler and receive support both during the school day and after school.

Brookside Elementary is a growing school community with over 450 students enrolled. Ninety percent of their student population is eligible for free and reduced lunch and have family incomes below the federal poverty level. There is high mobility in this school; during the first semester of the school year alone, 232 students enrolled or withdrew. Gabby, a Brightlane staff member, is onsite at Brookside four days each week, currently working with 43 students.

Despite the challenges, students at Brookside, whether enrolled in Brightlane’s programs or not, are supported thanks to the incredible and collaborative work of Brookside, IPS, Wheeler, and Brightlane Learning.

Key takeaways

I refuse to believe that anybody is set in their future based on present circumstances. Every single moment students are with us matters… We went from 9% of our kids reading at grade level to over 60% reading at grade level just last year. We’re making great gains, but it’s still hard…When you’re going through the stresses of what your family is going to do next, reading is probably the last thing on your mind. That’s where our tutors and Miss Gabby come in. The kids love coming to see them, and they work harder because they are intrinsically motivated to do well for them.

Jeremy Baugh, Principal, Brookside School

Consistency is key

– Student mobility is a key factor that negatively impacts academic success and behavior for many students. Every time a child changes schools, they may lose between four to six months of progress.

– As part of Rebuilding Stronger, IPS is moving to a zone model for the 2024/25 school year to ensure that more highly mobile students can stay in the same school. Current school boundaries mean that sometimes when a student moves, even a block away, they may have to attend a different school. Soon, when a student moves within a zone they will remain at the same school, which provides even greater stability along their learning journey.

My door is always open. As students return to the shelter after school, I worry about the voices that I don’t hear… It (the stress of instability) affects all the children and the whole family, but those older children are who I deal with the most. Those are the ones that know a little bit more about what’s happening so it’s harder for them as they try to navigate that themselves and help their parents navigate that. Those are the rooms I go visit.

Marvin Offett, Case Manager, Wheeler Mission Center for Women and Children

Relationships are critical

– There are many challenges students face, one of the most significant being the uncertainty about where they are going at night. But the first thing we can do is make them safe and ensure that they have what they need at this moment.

– Many of the students and families we work alongside are operating in trauma and may have fight-or-flight responses so building trust can take time.

– By embedding Brightlane staff on-site at our partner locations, we blend seamlessly into their culture and support case managers and teachers in their relationship-building with students and families. Together, we demonstrate to families that they have a team working with them to support their goals.

“When we look at the data of how our students are performing, Brightlane stands out. We have a number of tutoring partners, but the success, the metrics, the improvement in reading scores and academics is truly transformational for our students.”

Jessica Dunn, Director of Enrichment Programs, IPS

What we’re doing works!

– Brookside’s focus on building relationships and ensuring students have the resources and support they need is reflected in both academic and behavioral improvements. Just a few years ago, there were over 200 student suspensions at Brookside in a school year. In the first semester of this school year, there were just two.

– Wheeler’s dedication to supporting the whole family and leveraging partnerships like ours means that more students and families are connecting to critical academic and extracurricular resources. Students and families are more engaged with the schools they attend and participating in music, swimming, and other extracurriculars that help children learn all that’s possible.

– As IPS rebuilds stronger, they are ensuring students across the district have resources like those at Brookside School. Robust libraries, music, and art are all part of their focus in making every school a choice school.

At Brightlane Learning, we believe that every child has the right to an education and Sparking Conversations illuminated that we share that belief with our extraordinary partners.