The Indianapolis Public Schools Board of Commissioners recently approved Arlington Woods School 99 (AWS) as one of the newest Innovation Network Schools in the district. At the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, AWS will officially become a “jumpstart” Innovation Network School, operated by the nonprofit organization Sankofa School of Success (Sankofa). However, according to AWS Principal Tihesha Henderson, who is also the founder of Sankofa, many parents still want more information about what this change means for their students. To address that need, AWS planned and hosted a Parent Engagement event about Innovation Network Schools and their school’s transition.
In early March, before social distancing measures were put in place, 250 people RSVP’d and more than 100 people attended a carnival-themed event at AWS complete with prizes, games, and a photo booth, to learn more about Sankofa’s model and the changes taking place this fall.
There was popcorn by the registration desk, raffle tickets, and music. A spinning wheel of information was loaded with categories such as transportation, uniforms, staff and administration, curricula, etc. People were encouraged to spin the wheel and Principal Henderson explained the category it stopped on in relation to AWS’s future.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know or what questions you should ask,” Henderson said. “We wanted to help start the conversation with the hope of fluidly explaining and breaking down what this new opportunity would mean for Arlington Woods’ families.”
Family activities ranged from arts and crafts and balance and coordination to speed, agility, focus, and participation. There was free food donated by AWS partner Café Patachou, Easter Basket prizes, and game and movie night gift packages. Amy Clifton, a behavior coach at AWS, is a member of the planning committee. She described the event as light-hearted family fun packed with helpful information.
“Parents are busy and we understand how valuable their time is so we hosted an event that was not only fun, but also informative. Informed parents are empowered parents. This event was a tremendous success,” said Henderson.
“Sankofa is a word from the Ghanaian language. It’s also a mythical bird that represents looking back at your past and then taking that information to propel your future,” Henderson explained. “So, the Sankofa model is about taking all of the successful strategies we’ve done in the past and coupling that with all we know about trauma and social-emotional learning and moving towards the future,” she said.
Henderson explained that there will be an emphasized focus on students having strong character, being well-rounded, and having a global perspective. AWS will also utilize Sankofa’s model to create an environment that is safe, nurturing, and seeks to meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs using neuroscience, mindfulness, and high-quality education.
AWS is a public PreK-6 elementary school located on E. 30th Street on the near eastside of Indianapolis. It is a part of Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) district, which will not change when it becomes an IPS Innovation Network School. It will instead be categorized as a “jumpstart” Innovation Network School, which means it is a school that sought to improve student performance by switching to Innovation. IPS Innovation Network School leaders have more autonomy in their decisions around staffing, curricula, and daily operations.
Although it will be operated by Sankofa, the school’s name will not change. Teachers and staff who served and cared for students in the 2019-2020 academic year will remain the same. Additionally, school enrollment boundaries, transportation, student services, food service, and reading and math curriculum will remain the same. However, the teaching model will slightly change and there will be an added focus on teachers’ professional development.
“Arlington Woods has really stepped up. I’m excited about what’s happening because I have a lot of faith in Arlington Woods School 99, more so than I did in previous years. I believe in what they are doing because I have already seen progress,” said Yvonne Maxwell, a mother of five children, three of whom are students at AWS. “For example, now when you walk into the school you can feel that it is more of a calming environment. Now when a child messes up, they try to help get them together and see what’s going on with them instead of just suspending them.”
Collectively, AWS administration and the community/neighborhood initiated the request to become an Innovation jumpstart. Based on IPS’ category explanation of innovation schools, AWS – specifically as a jumpstart – will be able to choose/design school curricula that works best for its students. A few classroom and instructional changes include:
Plus, teachers will receive training on social-emotional learning and how to implement best practices in their instruction. They will also receive more professional development during the school day.
“The focus on social-emotional learning and teacher development will provide our students with the best quality education regardless of their socio-economic status, background, or circumstance,” said Annette Murdock Wooldridge, who is a special education teacher and leadership team member at AWS. Furthermore, “the jumpstart innovation will allow our school to prioritize the issues that directly affect our students and our community. Through the many community partnerships, the students of Arlington Woods will have the opportunity to receive resources that would otherwise be unavailable,” she said.
Maxwell underscored the importance of parents, school administrators, and teachers working together.
“Learning doesn’t only happen in school, it happens at home too. So, we got to be a team in order to get things going for our kids because it’s the whole kid we have to look at. It’s everyday life and helping them get their emotions together,” Maxwell said.
The next parent engagement event was originally planned for April. However, due to restrictions as a result of COVID-19, the planning committee is revisiting when the next event will take place and how it could function as a virtual gathering.
“In spite of the restrictions because of the coronavirus, we have a strong desire to empower families and remind them that they are partners in education. It’s more than the fact that they have a child or family member enrolled at Arlington,” Henderson said. “We are committed to keeping everyone informed. Their kids are directly involved and we want families to also feel a sense of belonging. We want everyone to feel like this is our school, because it is,” she continued.
To learn more about AWS, operated by Sankofa, including information about employment opportunities, visit myips.org/arlingtonwoods/ or contact Principal Tihesha Henderson at email@example.com.