need for change

Need for One Indy?

A recent study conducted by city officials identified six areas of Indianapolis with the highest incidents of crime, code violations and city interventions. Residents who live in one of these areas are six times more likely to be victims of a crime than Indianapolis residents who live in any other neighborhood.

Consequently, students who live in these neighborhoods face a tremendous number of challenges that constantly add to risk factors that jeopardize their prospects for a healthy and secure life. Risks experienced by children living in these neighborhoods include:

– increased exposure to violence;

– psychological stressors caused by poverty;

– lack of consistent nurturing relationships in public systems, with adults outside of the family, and in their families which often suffer due to the same factors impacting children;

– unsafe environments; and

– inequitable environments which is evident in the “school to prison pipeline”. According to Indiana University researchers who published The Achievement Gap and the Discipline Gap: Two Sides of the Same Coin?, 40% of students expelled from US schools each year are black while black students only represent 17% of the school aged

According to Paul Tough, a leading researcher in the field of social-emotional learning, “Children who grew up in stressful environments generally find it harder to concentrate, harder to sit still, harder to rebound from disappointments, and harder to follow directions.” (How Children Succeed, 2012) As a result, fighting, disruptive behavior, and bullying are often daily occurrences in many of the neighborhood schools which makes learning and teaching extremely challenging.

Schools, families, and our public systems “help” these vulnerable students learn how to behave and maintain order by utilizing disciplinary methods such as spanking, shaming, and excluding them from class and activities through suspensions, expulsions, and incarceration in juvenile justice facilities. However, in our efforts to help the most vulnerable children, we actually make things worse for them by increasing their risk factors. The US Department of Education reports, “Given the recent research showing that being suspended even once in 9th grade is associated with a twofold increase in the likelihood of dropping out, from 16 percent for those not suspended to 32 percent for those suspended just once,” the researchers write, “the high number of students suspended, as presented in this report, should be of grave concern to all parents, educators, taxpayers, and policymakers.”

 It would be ideal if parents, teachers, and invested community members such as the police could work together to create better solutions to truly help vulnerable children by teaching them how to behave rather than punishing them into compliance. Unfortunately, there is a chasm of mistrust and misunderstanding between many of the parents, teachers and police in these neighborhoods. Teachers, principals and school staff members often say, “Parents don’t teach the same values in the home that we teach in this school.” Meanwhile, families report feeling unwelcome and disconnected from schools and the other community institutions meant to serve them. We need to shift the discussion by helping teachers, parents and the community unify around supporting children and giving them hope for the future.