Coming next week: Stories of struggle and success for English learners in Indianapolis schools

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Post It notes with English words is one of many techniques schools employ to help English language learners.

Indianapolis is changing, quickly, as more people than ever before are moving in from other countries.

For schools, it’s forcing big changes to the way they teach in order to help their children learn to speak English. Sometimes, children are placed in difficult situations, like when they are required to take tests they can’t read.

Schools say it isn’t fair that they’ve been given less money — not more — for English language learning programs at the very moment when they face a flood of new children who need those services.

Beginning Monday, Chalkbeat will publish a series of stories in collaboration with the Indianapolis Star and WFYI Public Media examining the struggles of Indianapolis schools to effectively prepare immigrant children so they graduate high school ready for college or careers.

Through the series, you’ll meet refugees who came to Indiana after escaping war who had never before learned by sitting at a desk and teachers who have had to change the way they teach to reach a growing group of kids who can’t understand a word they say.

You’ll meet May Oo Mutraw, a refugee advocate so concerned about the fate of the city’s Burmese children she started a center to help them with their schoolwork.


You’ll meet Eddie Rangel, an teacher in Indianapolis Public Schools who found he could best connect with his students only by embracing his own identity.


And you’ll meet Elly Mawi, a senior at Perry Township’s Southport High School who came to this country with limited English, but she will graduate third in her class and head next to college.


Policymakers in the state have only begun to grapple with the challenges these students face. With much work ahead to better understand how to serve them, Chalkbeat aims to be your guide.

– Photos by Kelly Wilkinson, Robert Scheer of the Indianapolis Star

An Introduction

Indiana education is evolving. Here’s how Chalkbeat is growing to keep you informed.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Indianapolis Public Schools students line up at CFI 27.

When I first came to Indianapolis eight years ago, the failures of the city’s largest school district were on full display.

Indianapolis Public Schools was losing thousands of students to township, charter, and private schools. The continued dismal performance of several district schools put them on the brink of unprecedented state takeover.

Marion County was home to so many children living in poverty that they could fill the Indianapolis Colts’ football stadium, the local newspaper calculated, and then form a line outside it more than three miles long.

Among the first people I met in the city was an Indianapolis teacher who went Dumpster-diving at suburban schools for classroom supplies.

Still, the city was coming together in critical ways to support students and schools. Nonprofit organizations filled gaping needs, with school supplies, uniforms, and mentoring services. Education leaders searched for solutions as small-scale as targeted neighborhood initiatives and as big-picture as completely making over the entire school district.

Today, there’s a lot that has changed — and a lot that hasn’t. People across the state are re-thinking public education. Yet in many places, our students, teachers, and schools continue to face many of the same challenges.

I recently joined Chalkbeat as the new Indiana bureau chief to lead our coverage of the city’s schools and the state’s education policy landscape.

I’m coming from the Indianapolis Star, where I reported on education, politics, and diversity issues. I’d collaborated with Chalkbeat on stories about school integration and English-language learners.

I’ll be overseeing the work of our Chalkbeat Indiana reporting team: Shaina Cavazos covers state education policy, dissecting complex legislation and the politics that drive changes. Shaina has been investigating the underperforming Indiana Virtual School, raising ethical questions about its spending of public dollars, and revealing it hired few teachers and graduated few students.

Reporter Dylan Peers McCoy has been following the dramatic changes as Indianapolis Public Schools embraces charter partnerships, turning over control of some of its schools to outside groups.

I’ll also be contributing my own reporting, with a focus on charter schools and Indiana’s recent moves to publicly fund early childhood education, a topic that has gained greater attention with research showing how critical a child’s first years are to future academic success.

We’ll continue to do what Chalkbeat has always strived to do: provide strong, independent, in-depth coverage of efforts to improve public education for all kids, especially those from low-income families.

Please let me know about stories you’d like to see us write, or share feedback about anything our team has written. We’d love to hear from you.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at

Holiday Reading

Here are five Chalkbeat stories to read this Presidents Day

PHOTO: Getty Images
A statue of George Washington with the American flag in the background in front of Independence Hall.

Happy Presidents Day! We’re off today, and we hope you’re enjoying a three-day weekend too.

I’m planning to spend part of today catching up on Chalkbeat stories. Since last summer, when I started as executive editor, I’ve felt like a student again. I’ve never worked in education journalism before, so I’ve tried to read as much as I can — and there’s no better place to start than Chalkbeat’s reporting.

In honor of the holiday celebrating George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and our other past presidents, I’ve rounded up a special reading list — for myself and for you, our trusted Chalkbeat community.

Two stories that take place in schools named after U.S. presidents:

Why one Brooklyn high school is making a big bet on teacher training

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

Two stories about local education leaders (even though they probably won’t ever get a national holiday in their honor):

Can this Detroit principal help her students learn quickly enough to save her school?

Meet the Memphis educator leading the charge to take down her city’s Confederate monuments

And one recent story that has nothing to do with Presidents Day but is so terrific I had to include it:

Tight-knit and tightly budgeted: Inside one of Denver’s smallest schools


P.S. Got other education stories you think I should read? Send them my way!