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Attacking America's Dropout Crisis: ELEVATE Indianapolis

ELEVATE Indianapolis, one of the newest and most exciting youth development/mentoring programs in Indiana’s capital, is supported by Sagamore Institute and headquartered in its very own Levey Mansion.

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ELEVATE seeks to teach/mentor students by being right where they are—in school, every day. ELEVATE emphasizes that it is not education reform, rather, invests holistically and develops long-term, life-changing relationships with urban kids.

ELEVATE’s in-school classes in Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) teach an accredited curriculum of 13 character qualities and life skills taught by full-time, privately funded teacher/mentors five days a week in high school (currently at Arsenal Technical High School) for elective class credit. The teacher/mentors will teach once weekly in middle school (commencing at Harshman Middle School in fall 2016). Upper class high school kids will soon start teaching a “hybrid” class once weekly in IPS’ Theodore Potter Elementary School. Teacher/mentors also develop relationships with the high school kids year-round with after-school mentoring and activities, summer/adventure programs, and help them develop a plan for their post-secondary future — college preparation, vocational training/certification or service career such as the military.

ELEVATE provides caring adult role models as teacher-mentors, whose jobs are focused on availability to students to build relationships with urban youth. Public school teachers are too busy preparing for and teaching multiple class periods to be intentional about students’ lives as much as ELEVATE teacher/mentors. School is where kids spend most of their day, which makes it a prime location for developing meaningful relationships and conversations about life. The fact that ELEVATE is locally operated and privately funded means its teacher/mentors have the freedom to invest in students uninhibited by bureaucracy.

What makes ELEVATE special is the model has been tested and proven with success. ELEVATE Indianapolis is the fourth city to model Colorado Uplift, started 30 years ago by Dr. Ken Hutcheson in Denver Public Schools. Today, Colorado Uplift is in approximately 30 Denver schools serving 5,200 students with a 90% graduation rate amongst participants. ELEVATE Orlando was the first city to model Colorado Uplift, followed by programs in Phoenix, New York and now Indianapolis. Indianapolis is the first pilot city established in collaboration with ELEVATE USA, founded in summer 2014 to serve as a national resource partner to work with new cities interested in developing the ELEVATE model. Collectively, Denver, Orlando, Pheonix and New York program participants have a graduation rate that exceeds 95% and post-secondary placement rate above 90%.

The impetus to start a program in Indianapolis began when Steve Cosler, Operating Partner, Water Street Healthcare Partners, LLC, ELEVATE Indianapolis Board Chairman and Co-Founder of ELEVATE Orlando, decided to move back to his hometown Indianapolis in June 2014. Cosler engaged Jay Hein, Sagamore President & CEO; Don Palmer, Managing Partner, Honey Creek Capital, LLC; Jim Shaffer, a Central Indiana nonprofit and organizational leadership veteran; and Bob Whitacre, Founder & CEO, Cornerstone Companies, Inc., to serve as Co-Founders to establish ELEVATE Indianapolis.

In May 2015, the Co-Founders accompanied Dr. Lewis Ferebee, IPS Superintendent, on a site visit to ELEVATE Orlando, where they heard from Dr. Barbara Jenkins, Superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, administrators, teacher/mentors and ELEVATE students. Dr. Ferebee was highly impressed with the difference

ELEVATE is making in Orlando and the program itself. He came away from the visit convinced ELEVATE is one of the most impressive programs he has observed and encouraged the Co-Founders to proceed with a partnership with IPS.

The five Co-Founders became the Founding Board of Directors and conducted its first meeting in July 2015, when ELEVATE Indianapolis also became incorporated as a non profit domestic corporation with the State of Indiana Secretary of State. Shaffer also was hired as the first full-time President & CEO. Subsequent to the first board meeting, other board members were added — Marcia Barnes, Co-Owner & CEO, Ryno Strategic Solutions; Gary Brackett, former Indianapolis Colts defensive captain, Founder & CEO, Brackett Restaurant Group & Co-Owner, Stacked Pickle Restaurants; Tom Morales, Founder, President & CEO, Morales Group; and Dr. Frank Wilson, Orthopedic Surgeon & Sports Medicine Specialist, Community Health Network. A formal Memorandum of Understanding between IPS and ELEVATE Indianapolis was consummated on October 29, 2015.

ELEVATE employs full-time diverse ethnic teacher/mentors in high school classrooms to teach ELEVATE USA’s curriculum of 13 character qualities and life skills. What makes these individuals mentors and not just teachers is their ongoing support, collaborating with Central Indiana youth and community organizations for after-school and summer programs, and providing post-secondary preparation for college, vocational training or service career such as the military.

The 13 character qualities are vision, courage, respect, caring, responsibility, positive work ethic, integrity, career-mindedness, communication, leadership, problem-solving, decision-making, and goal-setting. In the face of generational poverty and the behavioral and academic complications that accompany it, many IPS students drop out of high school, finding only low-level employment or facing the challenges of dependence on welfare and the temptations of crime, which many times leads to imprisonment. Studies estimate that society spends approximately $2 million dollars on every high school drop out. It costs ELEVATE approximately $1,200 – $1,500 annually per student to provide life-changing relationships, develop character qualities, life skills and a post-secondary plan for their future.

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