Indiana

With science mentoring competition win, Indy hopes to inspire

PHOTO: Scott Eliott
Harshman Middle School is one of five schools in IPS using Project Lead the Way. The program will expand to as many as 20 more schools next year.

As business and school district leaders wrapped up a big announcement today in Hashman Middle School’s library  — national support for science and math mentoring in Indianapolis — just the sort of excitement they hoped to generate was taking place down the hall.

A group of seventh grade would-be engineers were competing to build the best ping-pong paddle out of popsicle sticks and tape. They were one class of teacher Tabatha Briones’ 160 engineering students at Indianapolis Public Schools’ science and math magnet middle school.

Ever four to six weeks, the kids plot, draw and then build something — a rubber band car or a popsicle stick bridge, for example — in hopes their models will earn accolades as either the best performer or most stylish design.

“Each project is completely different,” Briones said. “But anytime I do any project, I do a competition.”

Back down the hall, the adults asked: can the sort of enthusiasm evident in Briones’ classroom be spread to other students? Can it be sustained so that students go on to college to major in scientific fields that are badly shorthanded? Is there a way to help today’s kids someday benefit both the state’s economy and their own economic well-being by landing jobs in fields based in science, technology, engineering and math?

“Simply put, we do not have enough individuals with backgrounds in STEM fields,” said Jason Kloth, Indianapolis’ deputy mayor for education. “There is a disconnect between students interested in STEM and STEM professionals.”

A coalition of Indianapolis civic, business and community leaders hopes expanded mentoring can be part of the answer.

Simon Rhodes, dean of the School of Science at IUPUI, hails a new mentoring program as IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee looks on. (Scott Elliott)
Simon Rhodes, dean of the School of Science at IUPUI, hails a new mentoring program as IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee looks on. (Scott Elliott)

Their proposal on Tuesday beat out plans from 45 other cities to earn a share of $1 million in privately raised dollars through the US2020 City Competition. It was one of just seven cities picked to earn financial, consulting and staff support to launch its plan.

Led by the TechPoint Foundation for Youth, a philanthropic group that promotes STEM programs, more than 40 community partners backed the idea.

Among them were major science-based companies like Eli Lilly and Company, Roche Diagnostics and Cummins, which pledged to connect STEM mentors with students from nine schools in IPS, Lawrence and Pike townships, along with four Boys & Girls Clubs.

For IPS, the plan is to expand STEM from magnet programs at Harshman and Arsenal Tech High School to create a pipeline from lower grades by adding new STEM instruction at School 14 and School 15. Mentoring will come in the form of school day, after school and summer enrichment programs.

“This provides us an opportunity to put caring adults in front of our students and enhance STEM in our classrooms,” IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said. “We know that by sixth grade our high income students have 6,000 more hours of enrichment activities compared their low income peers. This is an opportunity for them to become interested in STEM fields and improve performance in those content areas.”

For the participating companies, mentoring in STEM is not just good citizenship, it’s good business, said Rob Smith, president of the Lilly Foundation.

“Our employees, particularly younger employees, are interested in more than just a paycheck,” he said. “They want to feel they are connected to something bigger than themselves. We have found when we provide those opportunities, like STEM volunteers through this program, our employees feel more connected to the community and they are better employees.”

Shelby Waugh (left) and Dalton Dean try to play ping pong with the paddles they designed. (Scott Elliott)
Shelby Waugh (left) and Dalton Dean try to play ping pong with the paddles they designed. (Scott Elliott)

Can a popsicle stick ping-pong paddle change the world?

Maybe so, if it’s a first a step for middle schoolers interested in engineering to understand the big concepts that engineers use to make the products that and build the structures that change people’s lives.

In this case, the concept Harshman’s engineering class aimed to impart was Newton’s laws of motion, said seventh grader Dalton Dean as he and Brendan Delay added tape to their paddle.

The first law is inertia, Dean said: an object at rest, like a ping-pong ball, will remain so until acted on by an outside force, like a paddle. The force exerted to ball is the second law. That force equals the mass of the object multiplied by its acceleration. Finally, the third law of action vs. reaction says the ball will put equal force on the paddle as it is struck.

When their paddle hits the ball, Dean said, “It goes through all of the stages at once.”

As Dean explained, Delay stood by, eager to interject. But when his partner finished, he simply nodded.

“Good explanation,” he said, looking at Dean. “I couldn’t have said it better.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede