Indiana School Becomes the Heart of a Community
Ask a parent. Ask an elected official. Ask an educator. Most will agree that today’s student is America’s next decision-maker, scientist, artist, and leader. However, for the last 10 years the emphasis of public education has shifted from developing well-rounded individuals, prepared to succeed in life, to testing low-level, basic skills in just two subjects: reading and math—thanks in large part to No Child Left Behind.
Educating the whole child goes beyond math and reading. It goes beyond exposing students to clubs that focus on dance, music, art, theater, and other creative disciplines. Educating the whole child is all of this—plus more. It’s putting the school at the heart of the community and surrounding every student with the support they need: nutrition, health care, counseling, and additional time for remediation and enrichment.
The educators at Glenwood Leadership Academy (K-8) in Evansville, Indiana, part of the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) district, are embracing this concept by demonstrating how collaborative efforts among groups with a vested interest in education can support the whole student and lift a community from despair.
The Glenwood Story
During the 1980s, the Glenwood area experienced a severe economic downturn. It went from a vibrant community to decay. Families moved out in significant numbers. Abandoned houses multiplied; crime increased.
Many families who remained in the neighborhood developed a negative perception of the area and the school, choosing to send their children to schools farther away. Student enrollment at the Glenwood Leadership Academy began to shrink, and free and reduced-price lunch skyrocketed to cover 95.4 percent of the student population, more than twice the district and state averages of 47 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
“If you looked at the evidence during this period in Glenwood’s history, any outsider would have said, ‘Lock the doors and bus the kids to other facilities. The neighborhood is dying,’” said Keith Gambill, president of the Evansville Teachers Association. “But we didn’t give up. The mayor, city agencies, community and education leaders, and residents collectively decided to invest time, energy, and resources to revitalize Glenwood. And it was the right decision.”
In 2008, Habitat for Humanity of Evansville spearheaded an effort to bring everyone to the table. Lori Reed, executive director of Habitat, took a page from the 2005 tornado recovery efforts where the community collaborated to rebuild after an F-3 tornado ripped through Evansville, killing 25 people.
“If we can rebuild a neighborhood after a natural disaster with such enthusiasm, passion, and intensity, why can’t we take that same approach and focus it on our neighborhood?” asked Reed. “Could we come from a position of strength? Could we collaborate and advocate with others who invest in communities?”
Apparently, they could and did.
After numerous conversations, focus groups, informal and formal meetings with students, teachers, parents, businesses, and residents, each community partner worked toward bringing its vision to the Glenwood Community Development Initiative, with the aim of stabilizing the community.
According to Reed, the Glenwood initiative needed to be “more than just housing, because people are more than just their houses,” which is why the Glenwood Leadership Academy became the focal point.
In 2010, the school received a $2 million School Improvement Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. While the federal education funds went toward enhancing student quality, student achievement, and community engagement, Habitat was constructing new homes.
In 2011, Habitat built six homes across from the school—removing rundown, uninhabitable, and deserted structures. To date, more than 34 homes have been built between Habitat, Memorial Community Development Corp., and the City of Evansville.
“Instead of students walking home and looking at empty buildings, they walk out and see this beautiful neighborhood next to their school, they see people who care,” said Tamara Skinner, principal of the Glenwood Leadership Academy. “Everyone has come together on behalf of students, and everyone believes we can do this work.”
A local architecture firm and the Glenwood Neighborhood Association teamed up to turn an empty field outside of the school into a community garden. Volunteers tend to the garden, where fresh fruits and vegetables are available for residents. A local Boy Scout and member of Crossroads Christian Church also chipped in to build a pergola, as part of his effort to become an Eagle Scout. Partial funding for the pergola came from the church, which also supports the school throughout the year.
The 3,000-member church has committed both human and financial capital toward school outreach efforts. For the past three years, church members have organized luncheons for teachers and provided teachers and students with the school supplies. Starting this year, volunteers will mentor students, organize book drives, and support teachers in the classroom.
Experience Corp. is another partner helping educators focus on the whole child. It’s an intergenerational program connecting volunteers to students who struggle in core subject areas or who need one-on-one support.
After-school enrichment programs are available to students and families. The YMCA, for example, offers advocacy programs in education and leadership; social services and skills development; and sports and recreation.
A critical piece to fully maximizing whole child concept was health care. Residents expressed a strong need for health care during the initial community conversations. EVSC heard this message and partnered with the University of Southern Indiana, St. Mary’s Medical Center, and Southwestern Indiana Mental Health Center to secure more than $1 million in federal funding to include a health clinic as part Glenwood Leadership Academy’s redesign. In January 2012, the school opened the doors to its public health clinic.
The clinic offers members of the community, from children to Medicare patients, an array of services, including immunizations; child, women, and men’s health exams; behavioral health services; dental services; and eye care.
“Educators are normally the first to recognize the importance of educating the whole child,” said ETA President Gambill. “When you’re in need of medical attention or you have a family member who is addicted, a child carries that into the classroom and the ability to concentrate in school that day is greatly reduced. That’s why these wraparound services are so important.”
Together an entire community is rebuilding their lives. Test scores are improving. Homeownership is increasing. Revitalization efforts continue as Glenwood becomes a fully sustainable community and the locus of hope for its residents.