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Indy Pulse: How Passion Became Action for Youth to Speak Up
In only three years, Indy Pulse has become a living, breathing part of the community fabric in Indianapolis. Founded by a quartet of Teach For America alumni, it has been featured by the local NPR affiliate as a model to educate and support our youth as they cultivate their voice.
In 2012, I spent my first year teaching at a school that served students from a low-income community on the east side of Indianapolis, and the challenges were complex and clearly demonstrated inequity.
Our school had no walls between classrooms, no textbooks, and barely enough desks to seat each student. My middle school team went through five math teachers and lacked a math and social studies teacher for nine weeks. We even had reporters flocking to our parents’ morning carpool line asking what it felt like to be at a failing school that would eventually close after that first year.
But it was hard for me to accept failure, especially with the potential that students like my classroom leader Whitney displayed on a daily basis. Our youth wanted to be engaged in a way that both respected their values and pushed them to greater academic and personal success. As a result, three fellow like-minded Teach For America corps members (Camea Davis ‘11, Daniel Harting ‘12, Anthony DelaRosa ‘12) and I resolved to do something about it. The result was Indy Pulse.
Youth today face unique challenges symptomatic of our swiftly diversifying, changing, and technology-centric world; we feel in-classroom education is not enough. Therefore, it is vital to broaden our views on how to engage them and to evoke the ability that lies within. Through our common-core aligned, social justice youth development curriculum and programming, Indy Pulse offers an innovative approach revolving around spoken word poetry.
The program usually occurs three times per week after school, and at Camea's school site, it serves as a literary arts elective course. In the first unit, students explore their identity, and how it's shaped by their home, language, and even food. From that base, they're able to move forward with analyzing the world around them. It's there where they learn about the genre of spoken word, how to structure their poems, and eventually build the confidence to perform in front of a live audience. It's not uncommon to see students start taking leadership roles as the year progresses. In fact, Marlene Mayren, one of Daniel's former students, continues to lead alongside our team.
Centered on our core values of reflection, advocacy, and inclusion, we partner with 10 schools and community centers throughout Indianapolis to coalesce a dynamic, democratic space for our young people to connect. As such, we cater programming to each of our communities’ needs to design targeted programs that build on their strengths and assets by infusing specific community projects and relevant curricula. For example, in recent weeks, our youth were at an open mic for Public Allies Indianapolis for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, where they performed poems on social activism and the American Dream.
We aimed to be the Louder Than a Bomb (LTAB) of Indianapolis and we're still working towards it. We have a long way to go and hold on to the vision of Indy Pulse as the youth spoken word poetry league in Indianapolis that uses social justice youth development, common-core aligned curriculum to push our students, our communities, and our city to be better, more inclusive and more equitable. We now work with 85 students per year ranging from fifth to 12th grade, and our schools have been pleased with our kids' progress. At Tony's school site, students in the program saw their English Language Arts scores rise by 50 percent on their last interim assessment to close the year.
The future is even more encouraging. We've more than tripled our number of programs since our first year and have collaborated with over 22 partners, ranging from Charles Schwab for a girls’ empowerment event to local colleges like Butler, IUPUI, and Indiana Wesleyan in order to provide mentoring opportunities that will help our students get to—and through—college.
In addition, Indy Pulse’s influence has begun to ripple beyond the four corners of Indianapolis. In New England, they are beginning their own version of our organization with Boston Pulse, whose debut event is slated for December 4th. We’ve even had the unique opportunity to work with corps members in the international Teach For All network, like Teach For Mexico and Teach For the Philippines. We hope it’s just the beginning.
Youth development is not successfully accomplished by one program or agency alone, but we are proud to do our part to help our kids understand that no matter what their circumstances may be, that they have options—and that there’s an entire community of people who see their value and potential.