This article appears in our January 2016 issue of Indy’s Child Parenting Magazine. Flip through it here or pick up a copy today at your local Marsh or Kroger store, YMCA, public library or community center.
If you’re like many parents, the school you attended growing up was determined by which school bus arrived at your neighborhood stop. Today’s kids however, have a vast array of academic choices open to them – with new technology changing how the term “classroom” is even defined.
The Indianapolis area is rich with educational options to suit virtually any type of student. To help parents determine which learning environment would best serve their child, here’s a breakdown of the various types of schools to consider.
Public schools provide the free, universal education envisioned by the Founding Fathers, serving every child and the community at large. Advocates tout the affordability, accessibility and diversity of public schools, while the large size of many districts also gives students more opportunities in specialized academics and athletics.
The largest public school district in Indiana, Indianapolis Public Schools, serves more than 30,000 students. Most recently, IPS has spearheaded community schools, which partner with outside resources to focus on academics, along with health and social services. The district also has a number of magnet programs centered on math, science, performing arts, language immersion and even specific career paths.
The district’s three Center for Inquiry schools – one downtown, one on the near-north side and one in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood – feature an International Baccalaureate curriculum promoting understanding and respect for different cultures with an emphasis on inquiry-based learning. At the IPS/Butler University Lab School, where the structure is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, students often forgo desks and work in teams on long-term projects that cover multiple subjects.
Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run, which advocates say gives teachers more freedom to innovate, adjusting lessons and schedules to best meet students’ needs. Many schools also focus on a theme, such as Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM), language immersion or performing arts. Charter schools must adhere to promises made in the school’s charters when it comes to academic achievement and financial stability.
One of Indiana’s oldest charter schools, Irvington Community Schools, on Indianapolis’ near-east side boasts a K-12 education emphasizing art, music and service learning. With just more than 1,000 students across three schools, the small size creates a close-knit community where teachers can focus on the success of individual students, says ICS Chief Operating Officer Tim Mulherin. “Although we are bound by (Indiana Department of Education) standards, we have more latitude as charters in our approach to teaching to meet the standards,” he says. “Our teachers have considerable freedom to develop curriculum, and our students benefit tremendously from our faculty’s creativity.”
Other local charter schools include: Herron High School, Paramount School of Excellence, Tindley Preparatory Academy (boys)/Tindley Collegiate Academy (girls)
Private schools have long been associated with academic rigor, committed teachers and elite athletics. Today’s modern private schools also tout small class sizes, stellar resources and specialized education options for different learning styles. A focus on common goals and values, along with strong parent engagement, create a family environment that promotes achievement and good citizenship, advocates say.
Preparation for an increasingly multilingual and multicultural world is paramount at the two north side campuses of the International School of Indiana, the only school in the state to offer an International Baccalaureate program from three years old through 12th grade. Teachers and students represent over 50 nationalities, and ISI offers language immersion classes taught by native speakers of French, Spanish or Mandarin starting in preschool. “It’s a fantastic community of like-minded families, teachers and staff,” says Rissa Guffey-Duymovic, ISI Director of Communications and Marketing. “The teachers, staff, parents and students work together to ensure academic success, and the results are exceptional.”
Other local private schools: An extensive listing of Indianapolis area private schools can be found on the Indy’s Child website.
A relative newcomer to the education landscape, blended schools offer a mix of online courses and in-person classroom instruction. For academically advanced students, this method gives the option for accelerated learning, while the shortened time spent in the classroom accommodates students with jobs or the practice schedules of elite athletes. The experience of learning how to manage one’s time effectively in this educational setting also prepares students for college life, say proponents.
At Nexus Academy of Indianapolis, the city’s first specifically designed blended public high school, students attend class at the Glendale location four hours a day, four days a week. They work remotely for two hours on each of those days, plus six hours on the fifth day of the week. Classes include kids who are ready to accelerate through high school, students who enjoy e-learning but also want a structured classroom setting and students looking for flexibility to pursue career, artistic or athletic interests.
“Blended learning is truly a 21st century education,” says Nexus Principal Jamie Brady. “It’s an individualized education, and our students are highly motivated to be here.”
Online schools offer the option to learn from home, appealing to students who are ahead or behind academically and those who’ve struggled with the social aspects of the traditional classroom setting. Led by state-certified teachers, students log in to complete classes on a flexible schedule that works for them.
Serving 4,000 students across the state, Indiana Connections Academy is a tuition-free, K-12 virtual charter school authorized by Ball State University. Students swap pencils for keyboards, receiving individualized instruction from teachers anywhere there is an Internet connection. Offline, students connect through activities, clubs and field trips.
“Students are able to learn at their own pace, allowing each student to have their own, personalized learning experience,” says INCA Principal Melissa Brown. “Online school also helps prepare students for the rigors and responsibilities of college, strengthening their time management skills.”
Other local online schools include: Indiana Virtual School, Hoosier Academies
Indiana is home to a number of prestigious boarding schools, including Culver Academies, Howe Military Academy and La Lumiere School (all in the northern part of the state) and the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities at Ball State University. While residential schools may not be a common option, advocates promote the small class sizes, highly qualified faculty and unique environment that encourages personal responsibility and community involvement.
BoardingSchoolReview.com provides tips for selecting a boarding school and admission/financial information. Their site states, ““In your boarding school research, you’ll likely hear that ‘boarding school is an education in and of itself. While a little corny, the phrase is true – living in a boarding school community leads to learning that is just as, or more, valuable than the education you get strictly in the classroom.”
While religious reasons often prompt families to choose homeschooling as an educational option, a growing number of parents are turning to homeschool for the flexible schedule, personalized learning opportunities and focus on family time it offers. Advocates also promote the financial benefits of homeschooling and its ability to allow students to pursue special interests.
Indiana is widely considered one of the best places in the country for homeschooling families because the state doesn’t impose any curriculum or program requirements, only that students receive 180 days of instruction per year that is “equivalent to that given in the public schools.”
“Homeschooling is a great way to create a personalized education for your child,” says Tara Bentley, Executive Director of the Indiana Association of Home Educators. “Parents are the best advocate for the student, and they have the ability to create an educational experience that fits the child’s learning style and their personal needs.”
For more on homeschooling guidelines, visit the Indiana Department of Education’s homeschooling site.
Indiana Association of Home Educators: www.iahe.net
Indiana Foundation for Home Schooling: www.indianahomeschooling.org
Maggie Loiselle spent 10 years as a writer, producer and web editor in television news before making the switch to freelance writing in order to stay home with her young son. She is a Michigan native and a graduate of Butler University. Maggie lives in downtown Indianapolis with her husband and son.