Growing by leaps and bounds in Indiana

Last year, thanks to our partnership with Marian University’s Center for Vibrant Schools, City Connects launched in 30 public and charter schools in Indiana. 

This year we are in 80 public, charter, and non-public Indiana schools.

This exciting growth has created more opportunities to serve more students – and it has expanded City Connects’ community of practitioners. 

Among Indiana’s new City Connects schools are non-public parochial schools as well as nondenominational Christian and Islamic schools and a private school without any religious affiliation.

This growth has been driven in part by Covid-19 relief funds – Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools – from the U.S. Department of Education that were given to schools where at least 20 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch. In some of Indiana’s City Connects schools, more than 40 percent of students receive these lunch subsidies, and in other schools more than 80 percent do.

This crucial support comes at a time when schools in Indiana – and across the country – are coping with learning loss, absenteeism, and students who are struggling to behave in age-appropriate ways. Indiana is also taking a hard look at its NAEP scores, to understand the pandemic’s impact on student learning.

This challenging environment has made City Connects more attractive to schools. 

“When I talked to administrators and teachers, they all shared that the work that City Connects does is the work that they want to do or that they are already doing a little of, but they don’t have enough time to do more of,” Alex Cipoletti says. He is City Connects’ Assistant Director of External Affairs at Marian’s Center for Vibrant Schools, and he supervises some of Indiana’s coordinators.

“The other attraction for schools is having community partners. Schools cannot provide for all their students’ needs and strengths, so they’re looking for someone who is an expert at building these partnerships. Principals also appreciate the clarity of the City Connects model. They like that it’s ready to use. It can be adapted to their needs. And it has research behind it that shows that it works.”

Expanding into so many schools has also meant hiring many more coordinators.

“The coordinators that we’ve placed in the schools so far are off to a very strong start,” Cipoletti says. Coordinators are collaborating with teachers and principals to determine how best to build on students’ strengths and address needs that may, in part, have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

And while public and charter schools often have systems for reviewing students’ needs that dovetail with City Connects’ whole class reviews and individual student reviews, coordinators working in non-public schools have had to build some of this infrastructure, creating teams who can help students not just with academics, but also with challenges in City Connects’ four domains: academics, social/emotional behavior, physical health, and family. 

Coordinators are also working hard to identify and engage community partners. One challenge has been finding partners in rural areas. 

“To build that network, we have to be creative,” Cipoletti says. “For example, one coordinator in a rural area is working with churches to learn about parishioners and how they might contribute to local schools.”

Adding coordinators in Indiana has also created a larger, mutually supportive professional community. Thanks to professional development programs and regular meetings, coordinators who work in rural schools are sharing ideas with each other. So are coordinators who work in certain regions and in non-public schools. Collaborative brainstorming also goes across regions and across different school types. Because of this, Cipoletti says, “Coordinators don’t feel like they’re isolated on the island of their home school.”

While growth has its challenges, our experience in Indiana has yielded rewards for students and coordinators.

“It can be challenging for a new coordinator in a new school to work with teachers and principals to build buy-in. But as coordinators do this work, as they provide support to students, they are seeing their work as very worthwhile.”

And they are helping schools across Indiana build strong systems of student support that can promote student success.

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