INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The city is putting $7.5 million toward a new in-school program to address out-of-class issues they say make learning more difficult. This includes issues like mental health care needs, food and housing.

The program is called City Connects and it will be organized through Marian University’s Center for Vibrant Schools and Boston College, where the program first began.

“If the student is coming to class every day not having eaten, you can put a million academic interventions in place, and it just won’t address it,” Jillian Lain, City Connects Midwest Coordinator, said.

Essentially, if basic needs aren’t met, students can’t learn.

“City Connects not only talks about the academic challenges but also addresses out-of-school factors like needs of the family,” Lain explained. 

City Connects places a trained coordinator, like a social worker or a counselor, in each school to understand the needs of each student.

“They start with a whole class review and then they do individualized service plans based on what the individual children need,” Patrick McAlister, Director of the city’s Office of Education and Innovation, said.

The hope is that these individualized plans will address the root causes of issues that hinder learning.

“It’ll connect families and students with the mental health resources they need, the food resources they need, the afterschool programs they need,” McAlister explained.

The money to help fund City Connects in Indy is coming out of the $150 million worth of American Rescue Plan funds Indianapolis received to use over the next several years. The $7.5 million will fund the program through 2024. It will launch in 12 schools on the far east side this fall.

“In a lot of communities that have violence as a part of it, the social needs, the food access, the mental health access, are all root causes to that,” McAlister said.

The Polis Center at IUPUI will help the city understand the outcomes of this program through its data collection. Lain said it will take at least three years to collect measurable information.

“Outcomes are something that we really start to look at year 3, 4, 5,” Lain explained. “So come year 3, I think that those outcomes will be must more measurable, and really able to be seen in a larger scope. That’s the intention that come year 3 we’ll be able to look at those larger outcomes from the student data that we’re collecting.”

According to Boston College’s website, students involved in the City Connects program are less likely to drop out of school, achieved higher standardized testing scores, and higher report card grades.