TPS Receives Grant from the Higher Education Commission to Support Teaching Fellows

July 1, 2020 -- The Project School is very proud to have been selected for a grant from the Indiana Higher Education Commission to fund an exciting partnership with the School of Education at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. The Project School Fellowship program is a collaborative effort that is designed to support two individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree in any field and who are highly interested and motivated to become a licensed elementary level teacher. This two-year fellowship includes all licensure coursework and an integrated student teaching experience and mentorship from experienced TPS classroom teachers. TPS fellows are full-time Project School employees and thus afforded the same level of benefits, support, professional development opportunities, and administrative services as any other employee. The fellowship is an opportunity to engage with passionate educators in a fully immersive experience, while earning an Indiana state elementary teaching license.

TPS Receives $46,000 Innovation Grant from the Indiana Department of Education

June 24, 2020 -- The Project School is honored to have received funding from the Indiana Department of Education to fund innovation in education for the 2020-2021 academic year. The $46,000 grant will provide the expansion of our social-emotional learning groups and of our makers/design studio, the creation of new staff professional development experiences, and the acquisition of new student technology. This funding is more important than ever, as we enter a year of such uncertainty with planning for COVID-19. Our deep appreciation to the IDOE for recognizing our innovative heart-mind-voice educational excellence!

TPS Students Win NPR Student Podcast Challenge Honorable Mention

Originally published Indiana Public Media

June 23, 2020 -- Seventh grade students at The Project School in Bloomington received an NPR Student Podcast Challenge honorable mention for their podcast: The Life of a Multiple. Created by Maddy and Zoe Waters and Ruth and Stefan Bartlett, The Life of a Multiple centers on their experiences as multiples (twins and/or triplets).

Starting in January 2020, NPR invited fifth through twelfth grade students around the country to create a podcast on subjects of their choosing in a competition for grand prizes and a chance to have their work be featured in segments on Morning Edition or All Things Considered. Student classes or extracurricular groups produced podcasts between three and twelve minutes long. A panel of expert judges decided the grand prize winners, finalists and honorable mentions based on the podcast’s information and structure, personality and creativity, and production quality.

In The Life of a Multiple, Maddy and Zoe Waters and Ruth and Stefan Bartlett talk about their struggles, habits, and everyday lives, with stories of having to share a room, toys, and even a toothbrush. The four debunk myths and tall tales that they’ve encountered in their thirteen years of living as multiples.

The Waters and Bartletts began working on the podcast, with the help of their teacher, Pamela Cunningham, as part of a unit for their middle school journalism class in January. The group learned the ins and outs of podcasting, from the elements of podcasts to how to develop a story. Using NPR resources, they researched the rules, came up with their topic of multiples, created scripts, rehearsed, recorded, and then edited the podcast. 

The group was nearly finished before The Project School’s Spring Break, which began March 14. Once online schooling began after this, the students finished final edits at home, with Cunningham submitting the podcast to NPR on their behalf. Out of 2,200 overall entries, The Life of a Multiple was one of 215 honorable mentions.

Read the original story and hear the winning podcast.

The Project School Distributes Learning Materials, Food and More to Students

Originally published in Bloom Magazine

May 3, 2020 -- Every Monday since schools closed as a result of the statewide stay-at-home order, The Project School in Bloomington has organized a curbside pick-up opportunity for students and their parents.

In the first weeks, according to Amy Jackson, philanthropy and outreach director for The Project School (TPS), this included an opportunity for families needing access to technology to pick up devices for their children. “Wi-Fi services were also arranged for a handful of families who did not previously have home access,” Jackson says. 

Families are provided with all school meals for their children for the week, as well as weekly printed distance learning materials for families wanting or needing those. “We have about 30% of our families coming each Monday for these pickup opportunities,” Jackson says.

On Monday, April 27, the distribution was more substantive, Jackson explains. The staff, she says, spent several days collecting personal items belonging to the school’s students, including items from their lockers and cubbies, artwork, notebooks, and more. School staff followed physical distancing protocols during the collection and distribution of the materials. 

“Virtually all of our families then came through the line,” Jackson says. “Families were particularly encouraged on this Monday to bring their kids in the car so that they could have the opportunity to see a majority of the staff all together. … It was such a beautiful moment—so many smiles, waves, and kisses blown.”

Jackson says the school polled families at the beginning of the pandemic and used that data to determine which families are experiencing food insecurity beyond the need for school meals. “Since then,” Jackson says, “we have been providing specific families with weekly Kroger gift cards, enough for $25 per household member per week for all household members, not just the children enrolled at TPS.” So far, TPS has provided between $1,200–$1,500 in gift cards per week to struggling families, adding families as needed.

“Our goal is to continue providing these gift cards through May,” Jackson says, “or later if resources allow.” Funding has been provided by donations from school families as well as a $2,500 grant from the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County Rapid Response Program, which finances the program through May 8, Jackson says. TPS will be applying to the United Way of Monroe County for additional funding to help continue the program through May.

“We have a deep commitment to TPS families, and it is imperative to us that we wrap ourselves around struggling families to get as many resources to them as possible,” Jackson says.

Read the original story and view photos.

TPS Receives Community Foundation Rapid Response Grant

April 20, 2020 -- The Project School has a deep appreciation for the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County for their generous Rapid Response Grant of $2500, which will help us continue to provide for TPS families who are struggling with food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis. Through the generosity of the Community Foundation and our private family donors, we have raised over $10,000 to support our families in need through the middle of June, which is the traditional close of our academic year.

Herald Times Covers TPS Expansion

Emily Cox, Herald Times

February 1, 2020 -- The Project School, a public charter school, will be expanding to space on Washington Street, near the school on South Walnut Street, to allow for more students to be able to attend the school.

For the 2020-21 school year, the goal is for one classroom to be ready, meaning about 26 more students will be able to be enrolled for the year, said Cathy Diersing, the school’s leader. Older students will likely be the ones to utilize the second space, but plans are still in the works.

By the time all three classrooms in the new space are open in 2022, around 85 more students will be enrolled in the school, Diersing said. TPS enrolls students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

“The opportunity that we now have to be able to expand with some controlled growth so that we can ensure fidelity to our model is just incredibly exciting,” Diersing said.

The Project School signed a 10-year lease for 416-420 S. Washington St., which is owned by Tom White. The space will be renovated, with the budget for the first round of renovations being $150,000, Diersing said. The school is working with Springpoint Architects to develop the master plan.

Diersing said the space will match philosophically with the work done at TPS, so it will include open spaces and flexible seating. The first round of renovation will affect some of the building, but only the front half of the space will have a finished renovation for the 2020-21 school year. In a year, the second section of renovation will begin.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of joy in our community with this announcement,” Diersing said.

During the 2018-19 school year, 278 students were enrolled at the school and 298 were on the waiting list. Diersing said the waiting list being higher than the number of enrolled students has been a trend for many years.

“There hasn’t been a year recently that it has reduced below 250,” Diersing said.

The waiting list doesn’t carry over from year to year, and when charter schools have more applications for students than open seats, they use a random selection process, or lottery system, to decide on enrollment. This must be done at a public meeting.

For The Project School, admission preferences are given in certain cases, such as to children of TPS staff and board members or children with a sibling at TPS.

Diersing said being able to enroll more students has been in the works for years.

“I believe that 2017 was the first time that we made a very large announcement there and then followed it up with in print information that was sent out to families we’ve included in our Facebook page a number of times,” Diersing said.

TPS is chartered by the Ball State University Office of Charter Schools and received a seven-year renewal last year, making it the first Ball State charter school to get this long of a renewal, Diersing said. The goal of expanding was also included in renewal documents, which are public.

“We are submitting an amendment to the Ball State Office of Charter Schools for the additional students and the trajectory over time,” Diersing said. “The amendment will be submitted by mid-February at the very latest.”

Diersing said TPS isn’t applying for a new charter, they’re amending their charter, so public meetings aren’t required.

The current space TPS is using is owned by the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department. The initial term was a 10-year lease, which started in 2009. There are four five-year extensions available for the lease, Diersing said. There are four years left of this first five-year extension, then there will be another five-year term.

“So they’re fairly well aligned, which is important, because if there would come a point where we would decide to move to one campus in 10 years, having the two buildings closely aligned in terms of lease terms is important,” Diersing said.

TPS will remain a K-8 school and won’t be adding on additional grades. Diersing said there were community meetings about this a couple of years ago, but the consensus was that wasn’t the greatest need in this community.

“We have a number of outstanding options,” Diersing said. “Project-based curriculum at the Academy of Science and Entrepreneurship has some alignment with the work that we do. We feel like that is taken care of. That doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t look at the possibility of an opportunity that might support a small number of high schoolers if we felt that that need existed.”

If a change in the grade level configuration was desired, that would require submitting another amendment to Ball State.

One goal with the addition of students is to make sure families living in poverty know about the additional spaces available, Diersing said. With more students also comes hiring more teachers. Diersing said she’s aware of the majority white staff at TPS, and having a more diverse staff that can reflect and best serve the students is important to the school.

“I worry all the time about the experience of teachers and the state of education and the fact that we’re losing so many teachers,” Diersing said. “I think that we work very hard to value teachers and to listen, and to have many opportunities for shared decision-making and collaborative experiences.”

More than a quarter, 26.3%, of TPS’s students have special education needs, which is equal to 73 students, according to the Indiana Department of Education’s Compass database.

“In our application pool, we have a fairly significant number of families who are searching for solutions to struggles that they’re experiencing,” Diersing said. “I think that there are brilliant special education services all over this county in lots of different ways. For whatever reason, there has been a recognition among many families that The Project School is a place where great inclusion services can happen and we work very hard to live up to that reputation.”

According to the fall 2019-20 Public Corporation Transfer Report, released by the Indiana Department of Education, most of the students that attend The Project School live in Monroe County. In this report, transfer refers to students who go to a school other than their local public school corporation. They aren’t students who necessarily transferred out — they may have never gone there.

The report shows that 250 students who live in the Monroe County Community School Corp. district and 18 students living in the Richland-Bean Blossom district go to The Project School. That’s most of the school’s student body.

In Indiana, funding follows the student. Both charter schools and traditional public schools receive state funding per-pupil. The addition of 80 to 90 more students total is what’s expected for TPS, Diersing said. That’s equal to about $600,000 in additional state funding for the school.

“I know that expanding the one free chartered public school that’s in Bloomington often comes with discussion from some about their questions or their their perspectives on this opportunity for families,” Diersing said. “I think for each of us, we have to really examine at what point we would search for an opportunity for our own children.”

She said sometimes it’s a philosophical search, where families find that what TPS offers matches with the experience they want for their child.

“Often, it’s a search for a family with a child who they believe is struggling significantly within the structure they’re in, and they don’t have another option,” Diersing said. “They can’t move to a different attendance area or do many of the things that would give them different choices.”

MCCSC enrolls more than 11,000 students. If a majority of the students at TPS continue to come from within this district, the additional funds to TPS would be a little less than 1% of MCCSC’s funding from the state, though students that enroll in TPS may have never gone to the MCCSC.

Diersing said when families come to a school by choice, that is valued, adding that it’s heartening to hear the excitement from parents, former and current students, and families who have been on the wait list.

“I also believe and have always believed in my 33 years working in public schools, of all kinds, traditional public schools and charter public schools, that the more we can do to empower families to make the decision about what’s best for them, the more the experience can mean,” Diersing said.

Jenny Robinson, chair of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education-Monroe County, said public schools matter for democracy.

“We’re seeing lots of funding that’s not keeping up with inflation and then the diversion of funds to charters and vouchers,” Robinson said of public schools. “This just continues that. It’s another sort of cut, it’s another sort of chip away at our public school system, which really can stay vibrant when everybody has a stake in it, when the stakes are high for everybody that we have a wonderful, fully resourced public school system.”

Robinson said public schools accepting all children in the community, including those from differing backgrounds and walks of life, is fundamental to society. There is a guaranteed voice in public schools through an elected school board, she said.

“We want people to have voice, not choice,” Robinson said. “I want our public schools to be strong because we’re in them, we’re participating.”

When people leave, they’re giving up that voice, which matters to help public school systems improve, Robinson said.

“If they have a problem, if they think that their kid or certain children are being underserved, make a stink about it, because that’s what we get to do in our public schools,” Robinson said. “We get to do that publicly and hopefully improve the situation for everybody rather than just leave.”

TPS Announces Expansion for Fall 2020

January 23, 2020 -- After years of planning and searching, The Project School, a K-8 chartered public school in Bloomington, has signed a multi-year lease on a building at 416-420 South Washington Street, which will allow for an expansion of the number of children and families they serve, beginning in fall of 2020. The full expansion will take place over a three-year period.

The purpose of the expansion is to create opportunities for many students on the school’s annual waiting list to be transitioned into the school. The school has been at full capacity since opening its doors in 2009, with an annual waiting list always in the hundreds. The number of children on the waiting list exceeds the number of actual spaces currently in the school itself.

“We are thrilled to be working with a local architectural firm and cannot wait to begin the renovations that will allow us to add our first new additional classroom in fall of 2020, with two more to follow - one in 2021 and the third and final in fall of 2022. While we are still fine-tuning who will be where and which classroom combinations will be added to our school each year, we do know that we will add a total of 80-90 students over the three-year period, and that we will be ready to go, with doors open to our initial new classroom, in August 2020,” explained Catherine Diersing, School Co-Founder and Leader.

This new school space will become an additional building for The Project School programs. They will continue to use their current downtown Bloomington building at 349 South Walnut Street – a leased space with the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Board - where they have been located since opening their doors in 2009, as their flagship building; the majority of their classrooms and students will continue to be located there.

Since the very beginning of expansion discussions, The Project School has recognized the importance of insuring that they are able to continue fidelity to their mission, values, and core beliefs in all aspects of their programming, even when serving a larger number of students. Their visionary staff and dedicated board leadership have taken thoughtful steps to reach this moment, guided by this goal.

Diersing shared, “Expansion provides us with the opportunity to give many who have waited years, literally years, the chance to join our community. Although this expansion will not allow us to serve every child who applies or all who are on the waiting list, we are so happy that in the three years to come we will be able to say YES much more often. And for that we cannot wait!”

TPS Teacher Publishes in Early Childhood Peer-Reviewed Journal

January 7, 2020 -- "How Do I See Myself? How Do Others See Me?" was recently published by TPS lead teacher, Doriet Berkowitz, in NAEYC'S Young Children November magazine. It is an article based on an investigation into self-identity with a kindergarten class at The Project School in 2018. It documents, reflects on, and provides guidance around promoting students' examination of 1) what makes them unique and what groups they belong to, 2) where their ideas about gender and identity come from, and 3)how the way others in our community see us do or do not align with how we wish to be seen. This unit of study included kindergarten discussion about the names we call each other and their alignment with our various identities.

Young Children is a professional journal aimed to provide practical professional resources and guidance for early childhood educators and caregivers. It is published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which aims to promote "high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy, and research."