Irvington Community School News & Events

English 10 Curriculum Makeover Gets Students’ Attention

IPA English teacher Angie Gibbs decided that teaching “dead white guys” lessons was a dead-end for her English 10 students. This revelation occurred to her while attending a National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference in 2013, hitting home during a session on engaging teenage readers through curriculum with which they could truly identify.

“Too many kids were failing because they weren’t engaged by the material,” she recalls of her first several years teaching English 10 at Irvington Prep, a semester of which was based on holocaust literature. “They were reading Night (by Elie Wiesel) and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (by John Boyne). Not that they aren’t good pieces of literature, but the kids just weren’t responding well to them.” So post-NCTE conference, Ms. Gibbs created curriculum focused on one of the most compelling subjects for teenagers: identity. She piloted this change during the 2013-2014 school year and refined it for the current year’s offering.

Students read the young adult novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, about the rape of a freshman and the challenges she faced and overcame. They also read the semiautobiographical novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a story of personal and tribal identity. It concerns a high school junior from a Native American reservation who moves to an all-white farm town and attends a high school with an Indian mascot. Says Ms. Gibbs, “Both characters are really struggling with finding their place in life and fitting in, which teenagers struggle with every day.”

Last semester’s culminating project involved students writing an essay about the symbolism of the tree in Speak and creating a supporting work of art. They then presented their personal “identity tree” to the class. As a result of this sea change in curriculum, the change in her English 10 grades from two years ago to now has been “exponential,” she says. “Never in my 15 years of teaching have my students participated at this level of engagement.” She notes that remarkably, none of the trees students created featured race or ethnicity as an identity theme.

Exemplifying how powerful the students’ exploration of identity has been, a boy with significant medical challenges colored his tree’s lower leaves a dismal brown to reflect his early medical history. Then he portrayed his experiences as a teenager in both brown and a more pleasant green, and the tree’s multicolored crown represented his hope for the future.

Second semester English 10 now segues to the subject of “tolerance.” Says Ms. Gibbs, “Now that we know who we are, we are going to talk about other people’s identities and where they are coming from.” Ultimately, the goal is for students to learn how they can be more tolerant of people’s differences. Students will choose from a list of 25-30 nonfiction books, including memoirs, such as The Pregnancy Project, the tale of a teenage girl whose six older siblings were all teenage parents and who decided to fake being pregnant to experience people’s perceptions of her in that simulated state. Such reading corresponds to changes in the Indiana Academic Standards and aligns with preparation for the English 10 End of Course Assessment.

Yet Ms. Gibbs believes that high school English classes can be more than just meeting educational standards and going through the motions of assigned reading and writing, especially in gauging comprehension. “Not every student is going to be able to demonstrate that he/she comprehended a lesson by answering questions in a study guide,” she attests. “They can regurgitate. But the question is, did they truly learn.”


Irvington Community Schools

Letters to the Editor
The Indianapolis Star
P.O. Box 145
Indianapolis, IN 46206-0145

Dear Editor:

Charter school funding has been in the headlines lately. Because the results of upcoming legislative action will affect actual Hoosier children, including those who attend Irvington Community Schools (ICS), it is important to get the facts straight.


It is true that charter schools receive the same funding per student for tuition support through the Indiana General Fund as traditional public schools. However, charters do not receive funding for transportation and facilities, which are directly supported by property taxes. This amounts to a funding gap of approximately $3,500 per student not provided charters.

While we take great pride in our lean operations on behalf of the state’s taxpayers, we believe that there is room to create a more level school funding playing field. Gov. Mike Pence’s proposal to provide an additional $1,500 per student to public charter schools, should it come to pass, will enable us to invest in curricular upgrades to maintain our success with academics.


All Indiana public charter schools are held to rigorous accountability standards by the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) as well as by each school’s charter authorizer (we are proud to have the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation as ours). This level of accountability exceeds that to which traditional public schools are held. Our charter is for seven years and it involves intense scrutiny by our authorizer including two-, four-, and six-year reviews. ICS is now in its 13th year of operation as one of the first charter schools in the state. (Reports are available at the mayor’s office website at


Charter schools are public schools and are held to the same academic standards as our sister traditional public schools – and then some, as noted above. As public schools, charters are required to offer every student who comes our way a seat. To do this fairly, and as mandated by the Indiana Code, a lottery system is in place to prevent enrollment favoritism.

A former Indianapolis Public School superintendent frequently accused charters of cherry-picking students. In our experience, that is far from the truth. As an Indiana public school, we cannot discriminate as to whom receives a seat in our classrooms, and behaviorally difficult students do indeed come our way. Significantly, students who are with us for more than two years eventually get on board with our cultural expectations (which we call “The Irvington Way”), and misbehavior trends in this particular student segment plummet dramatically. Our obligation is to work diligently with every incoming student, even those who have poor behavioral track records and have not been well managed at previous schools. In most cases, we are successful in stabilizing student behavior, emphasizing positive character development and leading them to greater academic achievement.


Irvington Community School, Inc. is a grassroots public charter school founded by residents of the east side of Indianapolis, most hailing from Irvington. We are a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.(Sometimes we feel that we put the “non-” in nonprofit!) We are not affiliated with any state, regional, or national education management organization (EMO), nor do we have a foundation to rely upon for additional funding. And yet, we continue to offer a quality educational experience for the just-over 1,000 students who attend our schools each year. Worth noting, more than 60 percent of our students participate in the free and reduced cost National School Lunch Program; 25 percent are minority students; and 14 percent are special education students.

In 2014, ICS, Inc. received a “B” rating from the IDOE; in 2012, we achieved an “A.” In 2013, Irvington Preparatory Academy (IPA) was named a “Best High School” by U.S. News & World Report. Moreover, 93 percent of the students in IPA’s Class of 2014 committed to a post-secondary experience. Clearly, we are achieving our objective. What we are asking for is an informed legislative educational funding discussion not clouded by misconceptions and half-truths, and for appropriate legislative action that will allow charters to continue to improve the delivery of educational services to all children who rely on a quality public education.

David J. Nidiffer
(317) 357-3770 x103

On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever (Almost) on the ICES Campus

We’re still getting used to the amazingly clear view around the ICES campus as a result of the brush and tree removal that took place in early November. Stewart’s Tree Service spent several days on campus removing invasive plants and other undesirable growth that had run amok in several areas, including the old “north woods,” detention pond, and on the west side of the building. This had presented a significant safety and security concern for some time. A school safety grant awarded to Irvington Community Schools by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute supported the project.

Caption: Long shadows are cast by several ICS School Safety Specialists as they inspect the new look school grounds following the grant-supported work performed by Stewart’s Tree Service in November.

Eliminating potential cover for criminal activity is known in law enforcement circles as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Irvington Community Elementary School Director of Operations Jennifer Daugherty, who is also an Indiana Department of Education School Safety Specialist (one of four on our corporate staff), says, “I’m thrilled at the new extended sight lines we now have across the campus. Thanks to the work of our School Safety Committee, we now have a much more secure campus. School safety will always be a key part of our corporation’s focus on continuous improvement."

Lead Photo Caption: The ICES Outdoor Classroom is now an unobstructed view from the Pennsy Trail — and vice-versa — as a result of the recent grounds improvement project funded by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.

IPA’s First-Year Robotics Team is VEX Tournament Champion

Irvington Preparatory Academy’s (IPA) Robotics Team competed in the 3rd Annual Indy VEX Robotics Championship (IndyVRC) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on November 15 and 16, 2014. The Ravens went 6-2 during qualifying rounds and were part of a three-team alliance that captured the VEX Tournament Champion Award. Bishop Chatard High School and Providence Cristo Rey partnered with IPA in the winning effort. Forty-nine local high school teams participated. Remarkably, the IPA Robotics Team, comprised of 11 students, is in its first year, under the direction of Coach Andrew Mundell.

According to Mundell, the robots had two tasks: to build a tower out of interlocking cylinders and to lift hollow cubes onto the constructed tower and other posts around the game field. Mundell, who also teaches mathematics at Irvington Prep, says, “We are especially proud of our accomplishment given it’s our rookie year.” His competitive nature showing, he adds, “I should point out that our robot consistently scored cubes on the highest towers. We are glad to make the Ravens proud!” The Irvington team also took the CREATE AWARD for having a robot that incorporated a creative engineering solution to the design challenges of the game.

The competition helps to encourage student interest in pursuing careers in STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. IndyVRC is sponsored by the City of Indianapolis and Roche Diagnostics. According to Mayor Greg Ballard, this is the largest citywide robotics competition in the United States.

Back to Top