We’re excited to announce that City Connects is expanding its presence in Indiana.
In 2018, we launched in three Indiana schools.
This fall, thanks to a mix of state and federal funding, City Connects is launching a two-year pilot program in 34 public and charter schools, serving 15,850 students in four cities: Gary, Indianapolis, Muncie, and South Bend.
As City Connects reaches more students in Indiana, it will do so in the context of a long history that stretches from a booming era of industrial strength – farm machine, automobile, and steel manufacturing – that eventually collapsed into decades of plant closings and layoffs.
The COVID-19 pandemic also took a toll, driving up unemployment rates. And currently, a global shortage of microchips has led some of the car companies operating in Indiana to furlough workers and cut salaries.
It’s a convergence of negative forces that will burden working parents and pose out-of-school challenges to children – including unemployment, hunger, homelessness – that hurt children’s ability to learn.
But just as it is with students, City Connects is aware of Indiana’s challenges and excited about Indiana’s strengths.
One strength is City Connects’ ongoing and now expanding relationship with Marian University Indianapolis, which will become home to the City Connects Midwest Technical Assistance Center, which will support City Connects schools in Indiana and across the Midwest.
Jessica Morales Maust, the Executive Director of K12 at Marian’s Center for Vibrant Schools, says hosting the technical center is an important pillar of her center’s work.
“Marian University has become very intentional in having a greater impact in the K-12 space. We want to elevate and transform schools and their programs and boost their overall performance and outcomes by creating as many connections and support mechanisms as possible both in Indianapolis and in the Midwest.”
“We’re excited to work with City Connects because it’s a practice that impacts every child.”
As devastating as the pandemic has been, Morales Maust sees a lesson in it.
“It’s time to refresh and recalibrate how we deliver student support. What we’ve learned from the last 18 months is that the needs of our students are far different than they’ve ever been. How we supported a student a year ago, five years ago, or a decade ago, isn’t enough. We have to be more innovative. We have to think bigger for the sake of every child.”
In addition to its work in Indiana, the Center for Vibrant Schools is working with existing City Connects schools in Ohio, and there are plans to recruit new schools in other Midwestern states, helping them with marketing, implementing, and funding the City Connects model.
“Schools are spread so thin given all the services they have to provide,” Morales Maust says, “so City Connects is a breath of fresh air. Ultimately, it’s a practice that needs to be in every school.”
Jillian Lain is the Center for Vibrant Schools’ Director of City Connects Midwest, and she is paying close attention to the early phases of this expansion. Lain supervisors three Program Managers who supervise the Coordinators who work in each school.
“We’re in the relationship-building stage; we’re getting to know principals and administrators,” Lain says. “With Covid layered into the beginning of school, we want to be really intentional about our outreach and communication with school leadership and be even more supportive than we normally would.”
The coordinators are already asking questions about best practices for implementing City Connects, such as how best to allocate time for the whole class reviews that help schools understand students’ strengths and needs. Lain is also drawing on her past professional experience to help develop a list of community partners that can bring services to schools.
“It’s exciting to be starting from ground zero and to set the bar for the quality of service that we can provide to schools and students,” Lain adds. “We want to build friendly relationships that are long-lasting and meaningful.”
“There’s a huge growth opportunity for this work all across the state.”
Adding Indiana to City Connects’ portfolio, will also expand City Connect’s evidence base. As Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director explains:
“Implementing City Connects in a large site like Indiana gives people around the country a chance to see what integrated student support looks like. And we learn more from every site we’re at. Putting City Connects on the ground in new places helps us to refine and improve the model.”
Another vital lesson that has come from expanding, Walsh says, is a deep appreciation of students:
“As we grow in Indiana and other places, we’re also learning and sharing how important it is to focus on students’ strengths.”
We are looking forward to building on these strengths in Indiana.