Bridging the Engagement Gap with ARP Funds

Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township (MSDLT) is a socioeconomically diverse, K-12 district in northeastern Indianapolis. Across 22 campuses, their diverse community includes more than 16,000 students with 30 percent English language learners and around 70 percent eligible for free and reduced lunch. MSDLT is one of the fastest growing school districts in Indiana.

Like so many districts across the country, the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township (MSDLT) knew this year was going to be different. After last year’s disruption, their students were returning to in-person learning with additional, critical needs. Teachers and administrators across the district knew they needed to help students ease into the transition of being back in school in the fall.

District leaders understood the importance of bridging the learning gap, but they knew that they must first focus on "bridging the engagement gap." “We knew that our kids and our community really needed school. They needed some in-person contact, they needed to get to know teachers, and build some culture around their school buildings,” said Kris McAloon, Assistant Director of Workforce Readiness at MSDLT. A retooled summer school plan was the solution.

The goal was to create an immersive and fun summer learning experience, at every elementary school in the district, that would attract at least half of their student population. That school experience would foster a connection among the students, the teachers, and their campuses. “They have to feel connected and feel a sense of belonging, and a sense of belonging to something fun, something engaging,” McAloon stated about the sense of community he wanted to evoke during this experience. That positive atmosphere would then fuel the first day of school, elevating other students’ experiences.

MSDLT intentionally made the experience feel different from a typical classroom day. They broke the days into blocks, some of which offered club activities in areas that were passion points for teachers, and which fostered a sense of creativity for students. Other academic blocks focused on humanities and STEM, with PLTW Launch module topics driving the theme that wove all blocks together. To provide incentive for engagement, the district created a badge system to award and reward students for character and learning achievements.

“[PLTW was the] student-centered learning that allowed kids to collaborate, to really work together on complex problem-solving. This (allowed us) to show teachers how you can get at those high stakes standards and those critical skills that students need, while still laying into some creative thinking and letting kids kind of play with their learning a little bit,” McAloon added when talking about using PLTW Launch as the curriculum that shaped the summer learning program. MSDLT saw that PLTW curriculum provided all of the elements that they were looking for in their hands-on, immersive experience. They also appreciated that teachers didn’t have any extra lift – the curriculum was already built, proven, and ready for them.

Over 3,800 elementary students attended the summer learning opportunity – 10 times more students than previous summer programs. “Many of our students benefited from having access to live instruction, other kids, the teachers, and the campus. They felt really good about their school community,” McAloon said.

To create this opportunity, the district turned to the American Rescue Plan (ARP) for additional funding. ARP funding and the CARES Act allowed MSDLT to invest resources in their teachers through teacher training and stipends. These funds also supported curriculum needs, supplies, and infrastructure.

“We've had a lot of success,” McAloon shared. “We've heard stories and gotten feedback from parents, students, teachers, and principals. All said this was the best thing that could possibly happen. That it allowed them to have a smoother transition going into the school year.” Through access to ARP funds, PLTW curriculum, and the hearts and minds of educators across the district, MSDLT created a transformative experience and successful start to the school year for thousands of elementary school students.

We commend MSDLT on their foresight and innovation, and we look forward to seeing how they continue to serve more students in this in-person year.

Learn more about how you can use the unprecedented federal funding of ARP to bring evidence-based, proven engagement to your students.