In the Classroom

College Summit leaving Indiana after fundraising, expansion woes

PHOTO: TN.gov
Gov. Bill Haslam addresses lawmakers Feb. 2 during a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly. The governor delivered his State of the State address on Feb. 9.

Trenee Lambert didn’t think she was destined for college. Instead, the Manual High School student was preparing for a life of working in retail or the fast food industry.

“That was as far as I thought I was going to go,” Lambert said. “My parents didn’t have an education. They were bare minimum getting by. I thought that was an OK lifestyle.”

But the summer program that helped her, and other students like her, navigate the way to college is pulling out of Indianapolis. College Summit, a national program that helped more than 10,000 high school students make it to college who otherwise might not have gone, is suspending its operations in the state.

“I kid you not, I cried,” Lambert said of her reaction when she heard the news. “I started to think about all the kids we could have impacted this summer. They’re losing out on relationships, skills, mentors. It’s a lot.”

A combination of fundraising woes, expansion setbacks and leadership changes at the program’s various schools caused the organization to make the decision to pull back, said Allen Goldberg, College Summit’s chief marketing officer.

“What happened was a confluence of events more than anything else,” Goldberg said. “There are a lot of changes at the schools that we currently serve and we weren’t adding the number of schools that we needed for our operational model. It just didn’t make sense for us to be there next year.”

Affected schools — including George Washington, Broad Ripple and Arsenal Tech high schools in Indianapolis Public Schools; 21st Century Charter School in Gary; and Cascade High School in Clayton — learned about the group’s decision last month.

Susan Sparks, a newly retired teacher who led College Summit classes at George Washington, said it opened up new doors for kids. College Summit was aimed at promising students who would be the first in their families to go to college. The program taught them how to seek financial aid, how to apply and even how to reflect on their lives to find material for compelling college essays.

The program also featured a week-long summer camp on college campuses to help students better understand the college experience.

“I think it’s a terrible loss for all those kids,” Sparks said. “I think College Summit is a tool that our kids need. They don’t have parents at home who have attended college.”

Just under 61 percent of students graduate in four years at the West side high school, nearly 30 percentage points below the state average.

The Mind Trust CEO David Harris, whose organization brought the program to Indianapolis in 2007 by creating a pilot at Manual High School, said its fundraising troubles represent a new challenge in Indianapolis.

“The education reform space here has gotten very crowded,” Harris said. “We’re a little bit a victim of our own success.”

Goldberg said the organization hopes to resume operations again in Indiana one day. The state still needs better support to get vulnerable kids to college.

“We’re looking at it as more of a temporary suspension of operations,” Goldberg said. “We are definitely winding down with this school year but our desire is to come back as soon as possible.”

To make up the deficit in the meantime, Harris said schools need to “build their own capacity” and get serious about providing low-income kids a path to college.

College Summit changed everything for Lambert, she said.

She never thought she was the kind of person who could go to college. She had been working much of her life, helping care for younger siblings after her father died when she was in elementary school and then in fast food during high school.

Even though teachers thought she was bright, Lambert’s goals were limited. She hoped simply to be a fast food manager some day.

“I realized it wasn’t OK to think that’s all that was out there,” she said.

But College Summit helped Lambert realized she not only could go to college, but that her life story was far from ordinary. In fact, colleges wanted students like her.

“It should be mandatory for every high school student,” said Lambert, who worked in College Summit summer camps.

She eventually graduated from Indiana University with an education degree and became a teacher, now at Indianapolis Public School 19.

In 2011, the Indianapolis Star wrote about her transformation after College Summit in a profile of the program.

Lambert pulls out the article to re-read it from time to time.

“I read it sometimes when I think about it how far I’ve come,” she said.

What's Your Education Story?

Actress or teacher? A string of ‘failures’ showed this Indianapolis educator where she belonged

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Karin Stratton, theater teacher at Pike High School, told her story of "failures" at the fall teacher story slam.

Karin Stratton would be the first to tell you she has failed a lot as a teacher.

You see, she explained, she never really planned on teaching at all. Teaching was just supposed to be short-term, a secondary career to the one she really wanted as an actress.

First, she taught third-graders at Vacation Bible School. Then, she moved on to teaching students at small private Christian schools in Kentucky and Chicago.

She was surprised to find out the Bible was pretty explicit — maybe not such great reading material for her youngest students. And the stylings of Whitney Houston were probably better left out of a religious classroom. Playing cards? Not the best way to teach math.

But every failure played a part in her journey as an educator. Turns out, she was right where she needed to be.

Stratton, who now teaches theater at Pike High School in Indianapolis, was one of several teachers and students who participated in a recent story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, and Big Car Collaborative.

Here’s an excerpt of her story. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

I had sixth-graders in this little Christian school and they were pretty, I would say, hellacious. Very trying. And there were occasions when they would be so bad, and I knew I had this imitation of a force that they could not reckon with.

And so I would say, “SIT DOWN AND BE QUIET!”

… Then the president of the Christian school came to me and said, “We understand you do imitations of the devil.”

“Desperate times, sir.”

“Next time,” he says, and he gives me this big ol’ board, “You’ve got to hit ‘em.”

So I decided I’m not doing that anymore. We just try to work things out.

Well you see, I made some bad choices. I let them listen to secular music, and we made a play based upon things like homelessness and “don’t do drugs” and what not, and (Whitney) Houston’s song “Greatest Love of All.”

Well I didn’t know that we were not supposed to listen to that kind of music … so I wasn’t hired back at the school. And I failed. But that failure led me to a place called Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Chicago, Ill.

Check out the video below to hear the rest of Stratton’s story.

You can find more stories from educators, students, and parents here.

How this Indiana teacher helps hospitalized students transition back to school

PHOTO: FS Productions / Getty Images
Nurse talking to girl in hospital bed

Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators who’ve been recognized for their work how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in the series here.

When Sara Midura meets her students, they’ve often just gone through a crisis.

As an educational liaison at Riley Hospital for Children, Midura is both a teacher and an educational advocate for patients in the Simon Skjodt Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Unit. She helps them keep up with schoolwork and transition back to school once their hospital stay is over.

“Many times, the students who come to us are either slipping through the cracks or seen as having huge ‘behavior issues,’” Midura said.

Her work includes easing the anxiety of a student returning to school; partnering with the family, school, and treatment team to make sure a student’s behavioral health needs can be met; and finding a “go-to person” at school who understands the student’s situation.

Midura, who was recently named one of the top 25 finalists for 2019 Indiana Teacher of the Year, talked to Chalkbeat about how she supports hospitalized children and how the lack of mental health resources in schools can affect students.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Was there a moment when you decided to become a teacher?

I decided to be a teacher in kindergarten — I loved my teacher and loved school, so it felt like a no-brainer to my 5-year-old self! I proceeded to force my friends to play school with me in my basement and made lesson plans during days that I stayed home sick. I toyed with other ideas for professions through my K-12 education, but solidified my desire to be a teacher as a camp counselor during my high school years.

How do you get to know your students?

Since I only have my students for a short period of time, I try to capitalize on the time I have with them by having them fill out a “school profile,” which really serves two purposes. Since the first time I meet the kiddos is almost always their first day on the unit following a crisis, I know that they are not functioning in their prefrontal cortex and are in crisis mode. They understandably are typically shut off, so the school profile is a great way for them to easily and safely let me get to know them a bit. It starts a good rapport, and I can always connect to something in there. Then each day I just make sure I check in with them, always reminding them that I am their advocate. We talk about school, life, and anything else. It can be easier to get to know them since they are in such a small group setting of up to 10 kids. This is my favorite part of the job!

Tell us about a favorite lesson to teach. Where did the idea come from?

I am certified in Applied Educational Neuroscience (I took a nine-credit hour graduate course at Butler University with Lori Desautels), so I run a group on my unit every week called “Brain Club.” In this, I teach students about their brains, stress, emotions, and how the coping skills we teach them in their therapies and on the unit are truly brain regulation strategies. We talk about the different parts of the brain, which ones we function in where, our amygdala and fear, and so much else! The kids typically love brain club and are so engaged!

What object would you be helpless without during the school day?

My iPad! Between playing music — I cannot work in silence! — looking up information to help students with their assignments, and using the different educational apps to fit all of my kids’ needs, I bring my iPad with me everywhere.

What’s something happening in the community that affects what goes on inside your class?

Mental health resources, or the lack thereof in many districts, greatly impact what happens inside my classroom and on my unit. There are many schools that are so underfunded and lacking resources, leaving staff burnt out. In my mind, this creates and unsafe environment for my patients returning to school. My patients need a school staff that can understand mental/behavioral health.

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.

The first really challenging case that I had was a few months into me working on the unit. We had a very high-achieving student who was going through some intensive setbacks, and the student’s dad was extremely concerned about school. I assured him that we would be able to “fix” everything with school and ensure that it went back to his expectation of normal, but that ended up not happening. This experience taught me that I cannot ever promise any outcome, but I can promise families that I will be with them each step of the way to ensure that education matches the treatment needs. This has changed my approach to speaking with families.

What part of your job is most difficult?

Navigating all of the different school systems and cultures during such a short hospitalization period can be very difficult when discussing behavioral health needs. I have my patients for about a week typically, so trying to provide enough support and education to patients, family, and school staff can be very challenging. I often feel like I don’t have the capability to serve schools as well as I would like to with supports! It is also difficult to not know how my students are doing after they are discharged — I wonder about them so often.

What was your biggest misconception that you initially brought to teaching?

I’m not so sure that this was a misconception rather than an underestimation, but I really did not comprehend until I got into teaching how huge of a difference a teacher can make on a child’s life. Now what I know about the brain and mental health is that one positive, intensive relationship with a teacher can absolutely change the course of a student’s life — it’s amazing to watch.

What are you reading for enjoyment?

This is very nerdy of me, but I loved reading books that relate to behavioral health, so currently I am reading “Life Without Ed,” a book told from the perspective of someone who battled an eating disorder. I work with many kids with eating disorders, and it is such a terrible, heartbreaking disease that I greatly misunderstood before working on my unit.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about teaching?

The best advice I received about teaching was to “fill your four circles consistently.” One of my amazing professors from Butler, Theresa Knipstein Meyer, gave a lecture one day about how crucial self-care is for educators. She showed us the theory of the four circles, where you have to consistently be taking care of different aspects of your health for the circles to be balanced and keep “your fire within” ignited. I think that it is so easy for educators to pour their entire hearts and souls into teaching only to get burnt out, and I have had to be conscious about taking care of every aspect of my life. This makes me a much better teacher and person, and I am so grateful to have learned that.