"It's a place for kids to discover their passions and explore those passions," says Christine Collier, head of Center For Inquiry (CFI) magnet schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) system.
In a time when public school teachers have been targeted by many a self-proclaimed school reformer, Collier makes a telling point about the original CFI school: "This was a school designed by IPS teachers. We knew there was a better way to look at how our students are educated. We envisioned a place where everyone was learning together -- the parents, the community, the teachers, the students."
A cadre of IPS teachers worked with scholars from Indiana University, Bloomington and IUPUI to design the original school, which opened as a magnet program at School 92 on the eastside with five teachers and 80 students. The concept was such a success that the CFI moved to its own facility, School 2, downtown on New Jersey St., in 2000. A second CFI school was added at School 84 on the northside. Both schools serve more than 700 kids K-8; a third will open next fall at School 27. Early planning has begun for the creation of a CFI high school.
The programming uses what Collier calls "a constructivist" approach. "We're not blank slates waiting to be filled," she says. "We build our knowledge. Learning is social, we learn from each other, from our experiences. When you give kids choices and you hear the questions that the students have to ask, the learning goes much deeper. They're involved and connected because it's personal."
Reading and writing receive special emphasis in what Collier calls "an authentic curriculum," one that eschews standard textbooks. "We read real literature. We write in our writing notebooks daily and study genres of writing," she says. "We study issues that have an impact, globally and locally."
Those studies are then used to inform various endeavors of student-driven community service. "The goal is really to have the action come from understandings that the students have," says Collier. Recycling, volunteering at Wheeler Mission and Second Helpings, tutoring in neighborhoods, and a tire drive to help prevent mosquito-borne disease are among the projects that students have undertaken. Collier continues, "The students are finding out you don't have to wait until you're an adult to discover there's a need in your community and that you can be part of the solution."
Recently, the CFI schools became the first in Indiana authorized by the prestigious International Baccalaureate program for primary and middle years.
When the first CFI moved into its downtown location, Collier discovered that parents with kids in the neighborhood were tending to move out of the city. She immediately started working with the school's parents group to install gardens and a new playground that was open after work and on weekends. The school became a neighborhood asset, as well as an education option -- one of many available through IPS. "We understand that parents want choice and know that families do not have to leave the district," she says. "All students meet success in our school."
IPS Center For Inquiry Magnet Schools
725 N. New Jersey St. (#302)
440 E. 57th St. (#384)