Across the schools that make up Indiana Urban Schools Association’s membership there is a wealth of opportunity for children during their school journey. And if the 2017 Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International poll of what families want is any indication, it appears IUSA’s members are not just meeting the demand, they are ahead of the curve. In the PDK Poll of public attitude toward public schools, Americans overwhelmingly support investments in career preparation. Families want schools to do more than educate their children in academic subjects. Adults gave more weight to job preparation and interpersonal development, while continuing to value traditional academic preparation, and especially opportunities for advanced academic studies.

Last year, US News & World Report identified factors parents should take into account when considering their child’s high school. The number one item is academic programs offered – from dual enrollment to Advanced Placement courses and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs – all of which are available in high schools throughout IUSA’s member school corporations. In fact, a few IUSA member districts offer IB beginning in the youngest grades and continuing through high school!

Today’s curricular offerings reach far and wide. Curriculum is designed to bring connections that broaden a child’s knowledge base beyond textbook learning. Career and Tech Ed centers offer more career pathways than ever before. Youth who express an interest in health sciences, construction trades, technology, mechanics, business, automotive, culinary arts, or other areas such as early childhood education are just a few of the program disciplines students in IUSA school districts can select from. But it is not just that these programs prepare students for future jobs, they also give hands-on experience and improve the future employability of skilled labor. High school students are building homes, styling hair, preparing food for sale, as well as any number of other activities designed to strengthen their career paths. Later this school year we will share more about the career centers and what they offer for students attending schools in IUSA districts.  Prepare to be amazed!

One way we see our world changing is with continuous technological innovations. Technology is everywhere – in our hands, on our desks, in our cars, our home appliances and some might argue that every company is a tech company. When it comes to preparing students for the future, no other field is growing faster than computer programming, making the demand for coding, robotics, and technology skills some of the most important for future career opportunity. Several IUSA schools offer robotics curriculum and have robotics clubs because robotics is a stimulating and engaging way to teach important mathematics and science concepts with hands-on, interactive learning that helps broaden a child’s knowledge and perhaps spark interest in career paths that otherwise might not have been discovered.  Everyone talks about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) curriculum and its value. Robotics, coding, and learning gardens are among the thoughtful ways educators instill components of the vital STEM curriculum offered across the state. Of the 33 STEM-certified schools in Indiana, more than two-thirds are from IUSA member districts! STEM-certified schools are models for Indiana and have been recognized by the state for demonstrating a commitment to STEM. Students use 3-D printers to solve local problems, step outside the classroom and enter learning gardens or environmental experiences where they make the real-world connections and broaden their depth of knowledge with hands-on engagement. Across the spectrum of schools in our member districts, the depth of academic offerings is staggering.

Indiana’s urban schools have resources that enrich the lives of their students across a wide array of curricular offerings. Fine arts, drama, and music as well as foreign language and, of course, athletics are examples of what these schools offer to help enrich the lives of the children who attend their schools. Some IUSA member schools’ marching bands have been invited to perform at events ranging from local parades and regional or local honor bands to the Tourney of Roses Parade! A long list of high schools from IUSA districts were among those recognized last year by the Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA) with an ISSMA All-Music Award for their choruses, orchestras, or bands. These awards acknowledge the caliber of music programming offered and recognize the talented youngsters who work hard to perfect their skills. Also, these awards are a tribute to the strength of the programs and those who develop and lead them. Community members can enjoy performances and competitions featuring IUSA high school choral groups or any number of theatre productions.

Last school year, a number of the high school programs were recognized as 2017 Best Communities for Music Education by the NAMM Foundation and scores of students had their works of art and writing entered and recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards –the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens that includes the opportunity for financial assistance to these talented students.  Several students from IUSA schools received National Silver Medalists or National Gold Medalist recognitions from Scholastic which included having their art on exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City! Extracurricular activities, clubs, and programs – and the ability of IUSA member districts to offer so many of them for their student base – are benefits of urban schools which attract a diverse student population who bring with them their culture, heritage, and other assets. Generally, urban schools have larger enrollments than their rural counterparts and the faculty and staff to facilitate the various program offerings that smaller schools cannot. It is important to recognize not just the incredibly talented students but also: the guidance they receive from coaches, teachers, counselors and others; the supports they receive from their parent-teacher organizations and broader school communities, and the willingness of school administrators to continue to find ways to build these offerings into their curriculum and after-school activities.

And while we know that these are important enrichments, we also know, as noted in the U.S. News & World Report, the top priority is academic programs offered. In Indiana, dual-credit courses have surpassed AP in popularity. Dual enrollment is a staple for many high schools across IUSA districts which have the advantage of proximity to and strong relationships with local colleges and universities. This makes it not only possible, but easier for the schools to make dual-enrollment courses available to their student population. According to the most recent Indiana College Readiness report, dual enrollment is more popular than AP credit. However, more than 12,000 students in the state earned college credit through AP testing. Many of these students are among IUSA member districts. The other program mentioned in the U.S. News & World Report information is International Baccalaureate (IB). Of the IB programs offered across the state, nearly half are offered in schools from IUSA member school corporations.

Indiana’s urban schools are well equipped to help students develop interpersonal skills that are so necessary for continued success in personal and professional experiences. Daily interactions between and among diverse populations of students offer the opportunity for awareness and understanding of the practices, culture, language, and traditions of people who live and work in this country.  So, when you see one of our superintendents smiling, it is probably because he or she is enjoying the success of one of their talented students, someone they have been able to provide a resource that can only be found in our urban schools! And they recognize that these programs and offerings are made possible thanks to the continued investment in one of the most important commodities – our future!

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