Educating the Whole Child – An Indiana Community Shows the Way
By Brenda Álvarez
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 theEvansville 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.