How Enlace Academy is Getting Creative to Serve Students and Families
Enlace Academy (Enlace) is an Indianapolis Public Schools’ innovation network school launched in 2013 with support from The Mind Trust. The school serves hundreds of K-8 students, the majority of whom are English Language Learners from multilingual families.
Two of their recent initiatives underline how Enlace works to provide support for families that extends beyond the classroom, engages families, and ensures that students see themselves in the curriculum they are exposed to. Each project was led by an Enlace staff member who took it upon themselves to break new ground on behalf of their students and families.
Creating a Popular Saturday School For Adults in the Enlace community
Megan Singh is the K-2 EL Teacher at Enlace. She was hired last August and brought a wealth of experience in adult education to her role. That’s why, during her interview process, Enlace mentioned they were hoping to start adult literacy classes for their families, most of whom speak a first language other than English.
Things accelerated quickly and Singh began leading Enlace’s Saturday morning literacy classes for the school’s families in September 2022. Enlace takes a broad view of what family means because their students do too. It naturally means parents of Enlace students but it also includes uncles, cousins, grandparents, and other family members who are close to Enlace students.
“We are trying to support parents and children as a means of providing wraparound support,” Singh said. Classes are free for families and occur each Saturday from 9am-12pm throughout the school year. Childcare is provided and was something that Enlace considered non-negotiable in offering this sort of program.
“That’s a huge gap in adult education when they don’t offer childcare,” Singh noted. “We are able to meet that need and it offers children additional time to interact at school and engage in social-emotional learning.”
Their classes use the Orton-Gillingham approach with a focus on phonics and an integration of grammar and vocabulary instruction in all four language domains: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. They use a pre- and post-test to gauge progress and build each class around the goals that their adult learners bring to the program.
Critically, their curriculum mirrors what their students experience in Enlace’s classrooms Monday through Friday. This was no accident, Singh explained, because “Since we are able to structure the Orton-Gillingham lessons the same way we educate our K-8 students, adults learn the skills and vocabulary needed to help their students academically.”
In fall 2022, they served 30 adult students through this program. For the spring semester that just kicked off, enrollment rose to nearly 60 students purely based on word of mouth. One adult student described the program’s impact by sharing, “For me, everything that you have taught in the course has been useful, especially because I had no knowledge of the English language.”
“I am thankful we can provide this opportunity for families,” Singh shared. “It’s all about how this improves their daily lives.”
Revising Curriculum to Engage Families and Students
Cynthia Diaz is the Fourth Grade Master Teacher at Enlace. Part of being a Master Teacher is strategically thinking about where curriculum may have gaps and how their team can get creative to adjust curriculum in ways that best meet student needs.
Instructional rigor at Enlace is essential. That’s one of the major reasons they selected Wit & Wisdom as their school-wide English Language Arts curriculum. Diaz explained, “We want to make sure that we are presenting students with rigorous material, even if students come in with varying skill ranges or gaps.”
But rigor is not the only concern for Diaz in what gets presented to students. She noted, “Oftentimes, the texts and novels planned in our curriculum are not always culturally-relevant and students have a hard time investing themselves in their classwork.” So Diaz led a curriculum revision project that aimed to pair the rigor of Wit & Wisdom with a culturally-relevant text.
The text they selected is When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson. It is a graphic novel about two brothers who are Somalian refugees, one of whom is special needs. They experience family hardship, navigate education in their refugee camp, and learn to love one another. They selected this text because, “It explores a lot of topics that our kids experience every day in ways that engage them,” Diaz explained.
Revising the curriculum with this new text wasn’t as daunting as Diaz first imagined. “We took the bones of Wit & Wisdom, kept the standards, and simply replaced the fiction text for the unit.” For Diaz and other Enlace staff, making these changes was important for their students’ benefit. But an equally important component of the project was family engagement. They wanted to make sure families had a window into the process and felt included.
That resulted in hosting a book release party for families to announce the curriculum shift and engage families around what their student would be learning. “The book release was a way to tell parents what we were doing,” Diaz shared. “I think families liked to see what is going on in the classroom on a more intimate level.”
They focused the event on what the parents’ hopes and dreams are for their children. That lined up with the themes of the book in a powerful way. “Our families got to feel seen and heard in ways that they often are not in the school setting,” Diaz noted.
Diaz hopes this project can become a framework the entire school can use in being thoughtful about the material they are putting in front of students. “It is so important for our students to see themselves in books,” Diaz said. Moreover, this project at Enlace is a clear example of how rigor and cultural-relevance can go hand-in-hand. Schools don’t need to choose between one or the other. They can have both.
Creative, Flexible Practices Foster a Strong Community
Both the adult literacy program and the curriculum revision project at Enlace demonstrate a key feature of public charter schools: the flexibility to serve and connect with families by implementing outside-the-box approaches. It didn’t require an overhaul of what already existed. It didn’t require vast amounts of money or hiring a number of new staff.
Instead, it required attention to detail, a willingness to rethink what is possible, and an embrace of whole-family engagement as key to educational success. “It’s a lot to be so meticulous about every little thing,” Diaz shared, “but that is what supports students in rising to the occasion.”