Be a spectacular philanthropist!

Last week, I attended the Manual High School Christmas Spectacular, and it certainly was. Spectacular, I mean! The choirs, the band, the poetry recitation, the dramatic performances, the costumes, and the set design were all wonderfully festive and well done. But the community engagement and philanthropic spirit were my favorite part! The ongoing “Our Children, Our City” series in the Indy Star has put a spotlight on this near southside school, and the resulting positive energy reached a holiday frenzy last Tuesday night. (Follow this link for the Indy Star article: http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=201012120376)

I arrived at the end of the evening’s first performance, and waited in a very crowded hallway as the audience poured out of the auditorium. Hundreds of warmly bundled families were eagerly gathered to secure their seats for the encore performance. The mood was celebratory and friends greeted one another across the foyer, shouting well wishes. I happened to station myself right next to the Donation table. (Though as a professional fundraiser, this was merely coincidence, as the table was really next to the Ladies Room…)

As the crowd streamed past the homemade donation box covered in wrapping paper, it seemed that everyone dropped a folded bill into it. Young, old, affluent, working class-everyone. It was beautiful. I just finished a Masters degree in Philanthropic Studies, and now I can safely say that I chose that degree because philanthropic action makes me all happy and weepy inside. (I got the Masters in Public Affairs so that I could get a job.)

Certainly, philanthropic action extends far beyond cash gifts. But as the year comes to a close, I urge you to make a generous charitable contribution to one of the hundreds of youth-serving nonprofits in Indianapolis. These kids are amazing and they need your support. And after you’ve made your gift of treasure, make it your new year’s resolution to give more of your time and talent. I promise, you’ll feel all happy and weepy inside, too!

Report finds that coordination is key to improve quality and access for Out-of-School Time Programs

As many schools in central Indiana are moving towards year-round calendars, it’s important for nonprofit service providers and youth development professionals to adapt and work with their local school districts to make sure that their youth enrichment programs fit with the schedule of when students will be out-of-school and on breaks. Some say that a big benefit of year-round or “balanced calendars” is that students are no longer out of the educational setting for long periods of time. As a result, students will not need as much remedial time going over lessons that were forgotten over breaks. However, when kids have positive and productive activities to attend while on break, it leads to an increase in their motivation to stay in school.

In a recent report published by RAND Education and commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, results indicate that when cities coordinate out-of school activities, the results are better quality of programs and improved attendance. The report, “Hours of Opportunity: Lessons from Five Cities on Building Systems to Improve After School, Summer School, and Other Out-of-School Time (OST) Programs” studied five cities: Boston, Chicago, New York City, Providence, and Washington, D.C. as they work to coordinate out-of-school activities with their local schools, parks departments, and non-profit after-school programs. Each study site had four goals to lead this process: increase access to and participation in OST programs, improve the quality of OST programs, build an information, technology, and communication infrastructure to facilitate better management and support for OST programs, and work toward sustaining OST programs and the systems designed to support them. The sites were given an initial planning grant to research their local needs and asses what resources were needed for improvements. After the planning assessment was completed, the sites implemented their plan, and five years later this study shows results for their coordinated efforts.

Some of the key accomplishments from each site include:

Goal #1: Increase Access and Participation

• Opening additional programs sites in underserved areas, and schools and other service providers facilities, and by in some cases providing transportation.

Goal #2: Improve Quality

• Development of quality standards, quality-assessment systems for providers, and incentives for improvement.

Goal #3: Develop Information Systems for Decision-making

• All cities developed web-based information management systems to track enrollment, attendance, and demographic data. This information as used to analyze which programs were the most desirable for students and parents. This data was very helpful in demonstrating needs in requests for funds.

Goal #4: Plan for Financial Sustainability

• Some cities had diversified funding sources, but all struggled with this issue – and still do.

What do you think – could Indianapolis students and youth benefit from a more coordinated effort when dealing with Out-of-School time?

Learn more about this student, and view the full report.

Courage of Conviction

A group of courageous young people from the Latino/a Youth Collective are currently holding a hunger strike as a way to call attention to the DREAM Act, which is being debated in Congress. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act would make it possible for children of illegal aliens who were brought to this country as minors to be able to access available programs and supports which would help them further their education and have the chance to make a decent living for themselves and their families.
These young people are so hungry for the chance to fully develop themselves and become contributing members of their communities that they are willing to go without food to show their commitment. Whether you agree with the legislation or not, you have to admire the courage of conviction that these young people are demonstrating. It makes me think of other times in our country’s history when young men and women have stood up for what is right and just: at the lunch counters in the 1950’s and 1960’s; when seeking the right to vote for women in the 1920’s; in Europe and the Pacific in the 1940’s. Different situations to be sure but all times when young people stepped up and faced adversity in order to show the values upon which this nation was established.
Young people have been agents of change and growth all throughout the history of our nation. It is that willingness of individuals to sacrifice themselves in order to achieve something that will benefit many that we admire and support. It seems to me that our communities need more people just like these young people and their peers. Doesn’t it make sense to give them the chance to fully grow and develop?

Keep an Eye on Education Reform

Education reform is at the forefront of legislative agendas for the upcoming year. The Governor’s agenda includes giving parents the choice of which school to send their children and giving school superintendents more flexibility in evaluating teacher performance. Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) has announced the approval of a move to a year-round or “balanced” calendar to start next year. President Obama’s 2011 budget looks to reform the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) through increased investments in new innovative programs and school turnarounds. All of these initiatives need to be closely monitored because no change, whether positive or negative, comes without some cost.

Some positive news was announced by IPS last week – their graduation rates are improving. According to their data, their overall graduation rate improved by 7 percentage points, from 49 to 56 percent. That number may not sound acceptable – and it isn’t – but it is an improvement nonetheless. It’s an indication that somewhere along the line, something seems to be working.

Despite this good news, we know that we still have a lot of work to do – we cannot continue on the same course. Investing in education reform will mean allocating more money and resources to schools and community services, but how do we make those changes given the current state of the economy and the refusal to examine our current tax structure? Research and data show that investing a minimal amount now will yield greater outcomes in the future. If we increase the number of students who graduate, we will have a future workforce whose unemployment rate is less and who both increase the tax base and revenue streams. If we invest in quality early childhood education, we can improve children’s long-term educational attainment and likelihood of graduating.

It’s a tough decision that taxpayers and elected officials face. In these economic times, no one wants to hear that their taxes will increase, as evidenced by the recent approval of the state property tax caps in the November election. While the Governor and State legislature debate the budget this coming session, they will be looking to create reforms without increasing taxes. Republicans in Congress have just announced that they will be blocking all legislation until a decision is made to maintain the tax cuts that are set to expire December 31 – something that most Democrats do not support. Sure, I don’t want my property taxes to go up anymore and I do enjoy the tax cuts and the increase in my take-home pay. However, at the same time, I am a supporter of public education and I don’t want my children to have less opportunities in school than I enjoyed over 20 years ago.

Nevertheless, while these debates and stalemates go on, our children continue to attend schools that do not meet state and federal standards for academics and continue to drop out, creating financial burdens through increased unemployment and public assistance, reduced wages and decreased revenue. It’s time to step back and reexamine our priorities as a whole, including the short-term and long-term impacts of our decisions.

Free Holiday Concerts at the Arts Garden!

The Arts Garden at Circle Center Mall is offering 14 days of FREE holiday concerts during the month of December. Take the family and get into the holiday spirit with music from school children’s choirs, orchestras, Jingle Bones trombone ensemble, barbershop harmony singers and more. You can see the entire calendar at the Indianapolis Arts Council website.