December 14, 2021

Near eastside neighboorhoods win $30M federal grant

William Lumbley, principal of John Russell School 51, discuss how a $30 million award form the U.S. Department of Education's Promise Neighborhood Grant program will improve the educational and developmental outcomes for children in two Indianapolis neighborhoods on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021 at the school. - (Elizabeth Gabriel/WFYI)

William Lumbley, principal of John Russell School 51, discuss how a $30 million award form the U.S. Department of Education's Promise Neighborhood Grant program will improve the educational and developmental outcomes for children in two Indianapolis neighborhoods on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021 at the school.

(Elizabeth Gabriel/WFYI)

Two Indianapolis neighborhoods that long faced years of disinvestment are the focus of a new $30 million, five-year federal grant announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Education award, which will benefit the Near Eastside and Martindale Brightwood, is intended to address factors of poverty, unemployment and crime that “create layers of adversity in the school, home and community for aspiring students,” according to the grant application.

The goal of the federal Promise Neighborhood Grant program is to improve the educational and developmental outcomes for children in high-need communities. In Indianapolis, the money will support wrap-around services for children, youth and families to ensure success in education.

“I’ve always personally believed that neighborhoods are the fundamental unit of change,” said James Taylor, chief executive officer of the John H. Boner Community Center, which applied for the grant. “How a child grows has everything to do with the neighborhood they live in and the schools they attend.”

The near eastside of downtown continues to face significant challenges, according to an assessment conducted from February to April this year by the John Boner Neighborhood Centers and the Indiana University Public Policy Institute. The findings show that violent crime rates in the IndyEast Promise Neighborhood Initiative is more than 30 percent higher than surrounding townships and more than three times higher than the surrounding county.

Community advocates have also been concerned about the lack of available resources within neighborhoods to support east side families, such as resources to care for a child's basic needs.

The area, according to the application, has just one fully-functioning grocery store.

Taylor said the community must focus on helping families maintain stability by investing in schools on the east side. The new funds will support positions to directly help students with academic achievement, increase partnerships between schools and community members, and help families meet their basic needs.

“You can have the best schools, you can have the best teachers, the best education model — but if families are faced with instability in terms of their housing situation, their utility situation, their food situation, their own feelings of safety — those things are really irrelevant to them,” Taylor said.

The John H. Boner Community Center will receive $5.9 million in the first year and target around 21,000 residents in both neighborhoods. Taylor said the first year will be spent planning as the groups work together to implement different data and evidence-based strategies in the community. But their initial goals will likely focus on early childhood development, school readiness and family stability.

The center is partnering with a wide range of civic, nonprofit and community groups, such as the city of Indianapolis, Indianapolis Public Schools, Children’s Bureau/Families First of Indiana, Edna Martin Christian Center and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said this funding will help improve the quality of teaching and learning in eastside schools, as well as provide behavioral trauma-informed support to students across the community.

“I believe this is an opportunity to really dig in in this particular neighborhood,” Johnson said. “To come together as a community, collectively, and say, ‘What is it that we aspire to be?’ And now we have resources to help actually realize that aspiration.”

Only 23 percent of students within the two neighborhoods were kindergarten ready in 2016, according to the grant application. A lack of quality early education options could be leading to those outcomes. There are just 270 seats at "facilities that meet national accreditation standards" for 1,660 children under the age of six within this area.

The program will support Paramount School of Excellence and six IPS schools: Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School, James Russell Lowell School 51, Brookside School 54, KIPP Indy College Prep Middle School, Harshman Middle School, and Arsenal Technical High School.

Indianapolis is among seven cities to be awarded the grant this year. Other selected communities include Leland, Mississippi and and the Yurok Indian Reservation in northern California.

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at egabriel@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.

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