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Bridges to Success (Indianapolis) Celebrates 20 Years on June 17

Visionaries return home for 20th anniversary of innovative school community engagement partnership

A unique approach created 20 years ago in Indianapolis – and now replicated across the country – changed how services for children and families are delivered. Bridges to Success celebrates June 17 with its visionary creators, Irv Katz, former president and CEO of United Way of Central Indiana, and Dr. Shirl Gilbert, former superintendent of the Indianapolis Public Schools. They return to the Circle City to celebrate the innovative community schools initiative launched by IPS and UWCI in 1993-94.

A community school is a strategy that organizes community supports for student success. "BTS takes a unique approach by working with systems already in place and changing how and where services are delivered," founding Director Cynthia Oda said.

Piloted in six schools two decades ago, more than 200,000 IPS students benefited from the BTS partnerships strategy operating today in 20 of the district’s schools. More than 300 community-based organizations, businesses, and service providers have collaborated in providing a menu of strategically aligned services for youth and their families. Led by UWCI and IPS, BTS school-based partnerships create the school as the hub of the neighborhood.

Services include mentoring, tutoring, health, mental health, extended-day, parent engagement, adult education, academic enrichment, community-based service learning, personal fitness, workforce development, college and career readiness, family assistance, financial counseling and food pantry programs. Provider organizations partner with school communities to secure, coordinate and deliver services onsite or linked to public schools.

In 2001, researcher and author Joy Dryfoos identified BTS as one of three most promising community schools initiatives across the country. The BTS initiative had been replicated in 12 sites beyond Indiana by that time.

"The community school is a sustainable, stable and resource-efficient method of providing educational equity for every child, every day," former Director Nedra Feeley said. "The strategy connects the community and its partners to a school with a deep collaborative relationship to provide the school, the families and their children with the resources and support to achieve academically. It is the common sense promise of the future of education for all of us."

Katz and Gilbert will be honored at a breakfast celebration June 17 at Marian Inc. on the Indianapolis Near Eastside. More than 250 initiative partners, educators, district leadership, and other stakeholders are expected to participate.

"A community collaborative like BTS brings together developmental nutrients and opportunities for children and communities where they are not as accessible or abundant," Katz says. "Community schools are in this sense, and more often broadly are, a boost to family and community asset development."

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