‘Indy Learning Team’ nonprofit hopes to increase access to literacy during pandemic

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INDIANAPOLIS – What will the future look like for education in Indiana? It’s a question the Department of Education is working to figure out, and while the details are still unknown, a non-profit is reinventing how they help children during the pandemic.

“I have three little kids, and the question was, ‘What do we do now?'” As the school year ends, Susan Appel believes her work has just begun.

“Learning to read is a year’s long process, and we need consistency on that to be really good at it, we also know in a typical summer, kids can lose up to 30 percent of what they learned in a year,” Appel added.

It’s a statistic her nonprofit, the Indy Learning Team, is trying to prevent.

“Ten weeks ago, we started printing off our favorite five, and we partner with the MLK Center and a few other community centers to send them home with meals,” said Appel.

The meals came with something extra—donated school supplies and books for families. The Indy Learning Team also continues to host virtual tutoring twice a week.

“We have tutors who have bought devices for kids. They’re delivering the educational materials,” Appel explained.

The nonprofit also helped the MLK Community Center launch their after school literacy program. Now, both organizations are tasked with reinventing what that looks like from a distance.

“I think we’re just going to have to double down a little bit on making sure they are at least reading at last year’s grading level and figure out over the next six months how do we get them to do some catch up,” said Allison Luthe, the Executive Director of the MLK Community Center, “I think kids have access to a lot of materials but doing a worksheet packet is kind of like a refresher. As far as learning new materials, I think that’s going to be the struggle.”

The Indiana Department of Education is aware children could fall behind, not only academically but socially and emotionally. Leaders formed a re-entry group to directly hear from concerned educators and families. The group consists of about 30 individuals from across the state of Indiana.

“Who understand on the ground level what their children are facing, what they’re working through, some of the challenges, some of the ideas,” explained Adam Baker, the press secretary for the Indiana Department of Education. “We’re really trying to listen to those individuals that are boots on the ground, in these school halls every day.”

Those ideas will be taken to the Governor’s office and the State Department of Health as leaders come up with a plan for the fall semester for Indiana schools. We expect to learn more details about those plans in the following weeks.

“It may be a new normal, it may be a new mode of operation, but we definitely have the best interest for our students in mind,” Baker added.

Appel believes working together will ensure students are prepared.

“We’re all in the same boat, but we have really different resources and we can come together and spread those resources out so that all kids have the opportunity to achieve their potential,” said Appel.

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