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Indy Links Awards to honor Women Warriors

The Indianapolis Chapter of the Links will present the Indiana Women Warriors awards 3-7 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Ritz Charles, 12156 N. Meridian St., Carmel. The organization will honor Alfreeda Goff, Dr. Patricia Payne, the Honorable Tanya Walton Pratt and Karin Sarratt. The awards were created in 2018 as a way to recognize women in the community who have excelled personally and professionally. The Links is one of the country's oldest and largest volunteer service organizations of women. Tickets are available at indylinks.org.


Take some time to give

In the midst of the chaos of the holiday season, sometimes the real meaning of the season can be forgotten. Giving Tuesday aims to change that.

Held on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday is an international movement that works to "encourage people to do good," according to the website. Started in 2012, the movement connects those who want to donate time, talent or treasure with local charities and nonprofits looking for people like them. If you're in the giving spirit, there are plenty of opportunities to do so Dec. 3.

If you love to read, consider volunteering for the ReadUP program through United Way of Central Indiana. Volunteers can sign up to mentor third grade students in Central Indiana. While United Way of Central Indiana typically looks for volunteers for this program at the beginning of the school year, volunteers can sign up at any time.

If your schedule doesn't allow time for reading during the

day, donations are accepted as the program is funded solely through donations.

"All the proceeds from our Giving Tuesday campaign will go directly into stocking our ReadUP library," United Way of Central Indiana public relations manager Jennifer Hashem said. The ReadUP program has partnered students from around 40 schools in 15 districts with a reading mentor for 13 years.

"Volunteers can come in at designated times and have students read to them," Hashem said. "The mentors are responsible for asking them questions to make sure the student understands what they're reading."

Opportunities also exist to help adult learners. Martin University needs monetary donations to enhance technology and offer full-tuition student scholarships.

"Giving Tuesday will kick off a week-long campaign," Gayle Spicer said. Like many organizations, Martin University will rely heavily on social media and the internet to raise funds. "We will have a special page on our website that will include a Givea-Thon on Dec. 7," Spicer said. "We'll be reaching out to all our current donors and prospective donors."

Martin University hopes to raise at least $100,000 through the campaign, "Challenging Minds and Changing Lives." In addition to student scholarships, university officials want to offer online classes and online registration to students.

While Giving Tuesday encourages citizens to engage in their communities via monetary donations, time is just as valuable, said Kim Teague of the Indianapolis Urban League.

"Giving Tuesday is also a platform to donate time," Teague said. "We have mentoring programs in Ben Davis High School, George Washington High School, Thomas Carr Howe High School, Warren Central and the Renaissance School."

Any money donated to the Indianapolis Urban League on Giving Tuesday will be used for the holiday assistance program, Teague added.

"They [families] can get help with rent, utilities, food and gifts for children," she said. "We're giving families food cards and gift cards for children 13 and under."


Black students aren't getting full benefit of 21st Century Scholarship program

There's good news for low-income students in Indiana who aspire to go to college but don't have the financial means to pull it off by themselves.

The state's 21st Century Scholarship program is helping them clear that hurdle. From 2012 to 2017, the college-going rate for students in the program was up 8%, according to a recent equity report from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. The report included data up to the 2017 cohort.

For comparison, the college-going rate for low-income students not in the program was down 6%, and the rate for higher income students who didn't qualify for the program was down 3%.

There's a caveat to this success, though, one many Black students and families are familiar with: They don't appear to be reaping the full benefit of the program.

Over the same five-year period, the college-going rate for Black students was down 8%. That's the exact opposite trend of 21st Century Scholarship students.

Of course, not all low-income students are Black, and not all Black students are low-income. But 69% of Black high schoolers were considered low-income in 2017, according to the report. That was the largest percentage among racial groups.

If 21st Century Scholarship students are doing well, so should Black students.

21ST CENTURY SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM AT A GLANCE

Students whose families meet the income requirement can sign up for the program in seventh or eighth grade. The deadline to enroll is June 30 of the student's eighth grade year.

From there, students must complete and track activities in high school that are designed to prepare them for college. The activities include creating a graduation plan, visiting a college campus and filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The student must also graduate with a 2.5 GPA or better and graduate with at least a Core 40 diploma.

As long as the student meets those requirements and is still financially eligible their senior year, the state will pay for up to four years of undergraduate tuition at in-state public schools and a comparable amount for private schools.

Next year marks the 30th anniversary of the program.

WHAT THE NUMBERS SHOW

Because eligibility is based on income, it's difficult to know exactly how many students are eligible for the program. But you can get an idea for how many eligible students sign up by using free and reduced lunch as a proxy.

For example, only 47% of students in the 2023 cohort (current freshmen) in Marion County who are eligible for free and reduced lunch are enrolled in the program, according to data from the commission.

That data is not broken down by race, and even where race is applicable, it isn't always a complete picture. Students and families self-report race on the application, and many decide to leave that out.

For the 2022 cohort, 12% of scholars are Black, but 40% are unknown, according to data provided by the commission. Excluding unknowns, Black students make up 21% of scholars. For the 2023 cohort, 18% of scholars are Black, and 22% are unknown. Excluding unknowns, Black students make up 23% of scholars.

For comparison, white students make up 30% of scholars in the 2022 cohort and 37% in the 2023 cohort, including students whose race is unknown. Those numbers are 50% and 48%, respectively, when excluding unknowns.

WHY AREN'T ENOUGH BLACK STUDENTS SIGNED UP?

School counselors and others who try to get middle school students enrolled in the program have varying hypotheses for why Black students aren't signing up at the rate they should be.

Some parents and guardians aren't comfortable sharing information such as income because they're worried it might affect any public assistance they receive, said Flora Jones, postsecondary readiness director for Indianapolis Public Schools.

Bonita Neal, a counselor at Belzer Middle School in Lawrence Township, said some parents aren't tech-savvy enough to fill out the online application. She tries to get her students, who all have Chromebooks through the school, to fill out as much of the application as they can on their own and then hand it over to parents when they're needed for income and social security number.

The most cited reason, though, is simply awareness. Not enough families know the program exists.

Officials at the state Commission for Higher Education know this is a problem.

Brittany Collins, postsecondary outreach and career transitions manager at the commission, said the outreach team is specifically looking at how to increase enrollment for Black students.

According to Collins, Black students in the 21st Century Scholarship program go to college at the same rate as other scholars, which was 86% in 2017, according to the equity report.

"We know Scholars works for the Black students," she said, "so knowing that there is a significant population of Black students, how do we make sure that they're in that overall pipeline?"

WHAT COUNSELORS AND OFFICIALS ARE DOING

The commission has a partnership with Purdue University that includes working with teachers to raise awareness for their students, Collins said. Counselors are usually the ones directly involved with getting students signed up, but teachers see their students five days a week.

Kristen Bostic, a counselor at Westlane Middle School in Washington Township, said the school has a table at open houses and back-to-school nights where parents can sign up their children. The school also sends emails to families and starts calling toward the end of the school year.

"For as much as we try to get it out there, for every 10 applications we hand out, we might only get two back," she said.

Jennifer Dodson, a counselor at Northview Middle School in Washington Township, said the school does a kickoff during College Go Week at the end of September, and the student news program runs occasional reminders. She said counselors go to classrooms in April to meet one-on-one with students who are likely eligible but haven't signed up yet.

These are standard practices for schools, but as Collins alluded to, counselors are overworked and can't dedicate as much time to the 21st Century Scholarship program as what would be ideal.

That's where organizations outside of the school are stepping in to help.

Indy Achieves, an initiative from Mayor Joe Hogsett, processed 509 applications last year, representing just over 9% of the total number of Marion County students who enrolled. The organization is at 400 students this year, according to Esther Woodson, Indy Achieve's manager of student progress.

"It's not the fact that their guidance counselor hasn't gotten out the information," she said. "But guidance counselors have a lot on their plate, and sometimes that information gets lost in the communication with that parent."

Indy Achieves is able to process applications because of its partnership with the Commission for Higher Education.

Along with working with schools to figure out how to reach families, the Indianapolis chapter of Indiana Black Expo works with churches and other organizations to raise awareness, said Emil Ekiyor, president of the chapter.

It can be difficult for schools to keep track of contact information because phone numbers and addresses change, Ekiyor said, so it's helpful to try to reach those families outside of the school setting. "We just need to connect the dots in our community to make sure our families know," he said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


Rooted School aims to change community

When Ma'at Lands graduated from North Central High School in 2001, she did so with a certified nursing assistant license in one hand and an acceptance letter from Tennessee State University in the other. In many ways, Lands had an average high school experience. What set her apart from many of her peers, however, was the 30-minute bus ride — one way — to get to school.

The east side native was one of the many Indianapolis students who were bused to more affluent schools in Marion County, an effort to desegregate schools that ran from 1981 to 2016.

"I drove past Arlington High School and Washington High School to get to North Central," Lands said. "I had a great experience there. We had some of the best educators, and I had exposure to all different types of programs. But once the busing stopped, a lot of kids were left behind. Students should not have to travel far to be able to access a high quality education. You shouldn't have to leave your community."

It was this belief, and a passion for educating that started in college, that led Lands, 36, to open Rooted School, part of a New Orleans-based charter network. Located in the Arlington Woods neighborhood inside Eastern Star Church, the mission of Rooted School is to provide students with a local, high quality education that will benefit the community as a whole.

"We knew that this was something we had to do with the community," Lands said. "Schools try to do a lot, all the time and by themselves. We believe that we can be successful by partnering with the community and pulling our resources together."

With classes scheduled to begin in the fall of 2020, students will have the opportunity for paid internships and fellowships with local technology companies and dual credit classes through Ivy Tech Community College and Martin University. Initially, Rooted School will welcome high school freshman and add a grade level each year.

"We wanted to do a high school because one, there's already an elementary school in the area, but also because the model fits best with high school kids," Lands said.

That model closely resembles that of the Rooted School in New Orleans. While some specifics have been changed to align with the needs of the east side of Indianapolis, both schools have the same goal: to close the wage gap.

According to Indy Vitals, which measures sustainability in Marion County neighborhoods, 39% of Arlington Woods residents live at or below the poverty line, a rate 14% higher than the greater metropolitan area.

Rooted School partnered with Eastern Star Church's ROCK Initiative, which aims to improve the quality of life for neighborhood residents through building a sense of community, enhancing housing options and increasing overall financial security for residents. Lands believes these goals can be achieved through enhancing education in the neighborhood.

"We are not a religious school," Lands said. "We're in this partnership because we have the same mission. One of the pillars of the ROCK Initiative is education. I knew that I wanted the school to be on the east side, because I was born and raised here and I have an invested interest. This is a community that was left behind, and I wanted to bring our resources together to give our kids the best education possible."

For Ira Tramell, Rooted School may provide the educational experience she wants for her son. After hearing about Rooted School at an information event held by Eastern Star Church, Tramell was intrigued by the potential for one-on-one work between teachers and students and the pipeline to either college or the workforce. She enrolled her son, Edward, and hopes Rooted will be the solution to issues she has had with her son's education in the past. "We've tried public schools and charter schools," Tramell said, "and no one has taken the time that she [Lands] has to help my son. [My son] isn't going to be a statistic; doing drugs, selling drugs, or six-feet under," Tramell said.

"Whether or not he goes to college," Tramell continued, "He's going to have what he needs to get a job after he's done with school."

Lands hopes that what students achieve at Rooted School will have a lifelong impact on them and their community.

"When you think about it, what is good for the community is good for the city and the state," Lands said. "We're talking about bringing jobs and people contributing to society. What we do here is going to be a positive socioeconomic impact on the entire city."