Most of us are aware of the deep learning loss children experienced during the pandemic. Fewer of us are aware that those losses were most severe for children living in poverty and housing instability who suffered not only in the classroom, but also in their homes with challenges to their overall well-being.
The impact is staggering. With 51% more children in Indianapolis experiencing homelessness since 2020, studies show that unhoused children saw twice as much learning loss as their housed peers, and children experiencing homelessness were 87% more likely to drop out of school.
One of our earliest Faith & Action Grant Recipients, Brightlane Learning (formerly known as School on Wheels) has had a front-row seat to this crisis. In fact, Executive Director Sally Bindley says her team functioned essentially as first responders from the earliest days of the pandemic.
By providing access to technology and academic support when virtual learning was the only option for students, Brightlane Learning served as an essential connection for kids who otherwise might have been adrift, losing ground in core subjects and dealing with isolation.
These were desperate times. “We knew our kids were behind. Our kids were hurting. We knew our teachers were hurting. Our staff was hurting,” Bindley says. “Everyone in education had to recreate their jobs.”
Just before the pandemic, Brightlane Learning partnered with the Indiana Youth Institute to author a white paper report the organizations presented to the State Board of Education. Their data, which showed the impact of housing instability on the educational outcomes of kids who are homeless and in foster care, was not suprising, but it helped shine a brighter light on the disproportionate way government resources are distributed. Every county receives the same level of government resources to serve homeless children, regardless of the level of homelessness they face. In other words, the counties with the most homeless and foster kids – Marion and Allen counties are at the top of the list – receive the same level of support as counties that have fewer of those kids.
As an organization based in Marion County, Brightlane Learning sees the impact of this funding challenge up close. It has responded by expanding its services, in large part by adding high schools to its partner list. Last fiscal year, its enrollment increased by 150%; this year, it’s up another 67%.
To support this growth, Brightlane Learning doubled its staff and put a staff member at each school all day long. This allowed Brightlane Learning staff to help educators create more stability in the classroom and provide customized learning support for students.
Brightlane Learning has also sought to meet needs beyond the classroom by providing social and emotional support. In a time when mental health is an increasing challenge – calls to suicide hotlines are at the highest volume in decades – the Brightlane team does all it can to support youth and teens by offering a listening ear to the students, who frequently visit Brightlane staffers to talk during school-day breaks.
“These children already facing homelessness need additional support to reach stability,” Bindley says, “and we are positioned well to be available while school counselors and teachers are taxed and reached full capacity.”
To demonstrate her team’s impact, Bindley offered a few examples from area schools. In one case, a high school student needed only eight weeks of Brightlane support to go from failing algebra to being told she had grasped the concepts well enough to tutor other kids in her class. (Her response: “Really? Me?”) In another case, Brightlane Learning helped to re-enroll a Herron-Riverside High School student who had missed almost a full year of classes due to family emergencies. A third students was helped to enroll in the Excel Center to complete his Core 40 requirements after being out of school for more than two years – a step that, based on research, decreases his likelihood of becoming homeless as an adult.
For more information on how educators, including Brightlane Learning, worked together to assist students who suffered the greatest learning loss, read this story from newsandtribune.com: https://www.newsandtribune.com/indiana/news/indiana-educators-battle-pandemic-learning-loss/article_21dab9b5-846f-53be-bbb3-4fe00b096b98.html
Fortunately, Brightlane Learning isn’t the only Indianapolis organization working tirelessly to support youth in poverty with their educational needs. Elevate Indy and Shepherd Community Center are two Faith & Action Grant recipients dedicated to providing educational support, emotional support and other wrap around services.
- Listen to the ways Shepherd Community Center is working to prepare youth for jobs.
- Revisit the February 2020 F&AP Newsletter article about Elevate Indy youth and the key items they identified for long-term impact.
The relationships CTS has with grant organizations like these are critical to understanding what is happening on the front lines of poverty, and we couldn’t maintain these relationships without the support of the Mike and Sue Family Fund. The Faith & Action Project will continue to provide catalytic grants to organizations that are effective in breaking the cycle of poverty and highlight the ways these organizations provide access to resources and walk alongside families facing poverty.