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Navigating the Education System

Considering alternative schooling for your child

February 2012

If you haven't done it yet, now is the time to start thinking about where you want to send your child to school. Why now? What better time to tour the local schools than when class is in session? There are plenty of options beyond the neighborhood public or parochial school. We've done some research for you on what's out there.

Magnet Schools

Let's start with magnet schools. These are public schools with specialized themes. Indianapolis has the broadest range of magnet choices in the state. You'll find programs focusing on law and public policy, environmental studies, languages and more.

The IPS/Butler University Laboratory School is a Reggio-inspired program that focuses on problem solving and the arts. Amy Goldsmith of Irvington has a kindergartner at the school. Goldsmith has two children at Sidener Academy but wanted something different for 5-year-old Sascha.

"I was concerned that a traditional school environment would squelch some of her creativity and inquisitive nature. I really wanted to find a hands-on learning environment for her, and everything they described in the vision for the Lab School met that criteria." Goldsmith has been very happy with her choice and considers herself lucky to get in. Parents are required to apply to magnets a year in advance and most are put on waiting lists. Many magnet schools are hosting information sessions this spring. Go to www.magnet.ips.k12.in.us for more information.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are another option. These are privately operated public schools. Each school must meet state academic expectations. If it fails, the school will lose its charter and must close. Marcus Robinson is the chancellor of EdPower – the group behind the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School for grades 6-12. He said, "I think charters are important to our community because they allow some educators to innovate." They also allow parents other choices when they can't afford private school. Tindley has 500 students in grades 6-12 and is growing. In the fall, Tindley Preparatory Academy - Indiana's first all-male, middle school, college-preparatory academy – will open, and next year, Tindley Collegiate, an all-female middle-school will open.

Like magnet schools, most charter schools have a theme. At the Irvington Community Elementary School, its themes are character development and creative arts. The school boasts a full time behavior coach to provide character Education lessons. Irvington is also unique because it operates on a year-round, 195-day calendar. Jodie Lannan, the school's director said, "Year-round programs have been studied across the United States, and they are shown to improve student achievement by reducing the regression of skills that often occurs over long summer breaks."

Andrew J. Brown Academy is another charter. It offers a moral curriculum along with school basics. Principal Thelma Wyatt said, "We believe that if we instill in students certain moral virtues, their academic and social development will be positively impacted."

The Goodwill Industries created Indianapolis Metropolitan High School. The school's primary goal is to prepare students for success after high school with college-level courses and even internships.

Online Schools

Online schools are another option for busy families. Indiana Connections Academy (INCA) is an accredited, tuition-free online public school for grades K-12. Principal Melissa Brown said there are misconceptions about online learning. Some believe that it's an easy way out, but students are required to meet state requirements in all subjects. Brown added that a lot of people assume online students lack interaction with other kids, but INCA students are able to meet each other through organized field trips and picnics.

Hoosier Academies is a free charter online program with a parent acting as a learning coach to help their children work through their lessons. The group also operates blended-learning programs that include online learning at home and a learning center where students work with teachers.

Montessori Schools

Another education choice is Montessori. Montessori education allows for hands-on learning in mixed age classrooms. Indiana Montessori Academy in WestClay educates children from ages 3-6 together in one classroom. School directress, Kris Spence, said the older children become natural leaders of younger students, and the younger ones learn and grow from working with older students.

There are misconceptions about the Montessori method. Some people believe the environment is chaotic with children choosing their own work, but Sharon Emanuel, the founder of WestClay Montessori said it's actually the opposite. "Our classroom is set up in an organized, purposeful way, giving the child easy access to the activities neatly placed on low shelves. The child works with the material, cleans up, then places it back in the same spot from which it was taken." Regina McShay at the Montessori Centres of Indianapolis said this type of environment encourages children to learn at their own pace and the teachers are able to meet them at their individual level. "They learn through hands-on activities and learn through discovery of what works and what doesn't."

Ranee Dhadialla, the president and principal of International Montessori, said another misconception is that Montessoris are only for the wealthy. "Daycare centers cost just about as much as the Montessori schools." She added that many Montessori schools are diverse. International has students from American, Asian, Russian, Middle Eastern, Spanish and other backgrounds.

The Children's House is one of the few Montessori-based schools in Indianapolis that goes up to 8th grade. Mary Sexson, a teacher and administrator, said their school is unique because it is a non-graded setting. Children have goals to meet and regular progress reports, but there are no As and Bs here. Sexson said that the system works. Their students have gone on to almost every high school in Indianapolis without any problems.

Parents have a lot more school choices than they used to and Indianapolis is filled with great options. The hard part is choosing the best one for your family.

Tags: Education, In This Issue

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