As a lifelong resident of Northwest Indiana, this is a unique place to call home in our wonderful country. When I think about what it is about NWI that makes it a place to call home, it is all about family. My dad, his brothers, and many others came here for work. Historically, the mills brought many people here because they could make a living for their families.
The economic factor cannot be denied that this was a great place to work and provide for a family. How do we continue to provide a standard of excellence for families in NWI? The key is education, education and education. Of course, you should expect this from my perspective as an educator who desires achievement for students in every phase of life. When education is coupled with hard work, the sky is the limit for a successful future. Let’s explore five major ideas to make NWI stronger, noting that education is a critical aspect in helping us build a better NWI.
It is infrastructure that will foster economic growth in the region. Business leaders in NWI are serious about growth. This means jobs for families. Business leaders are committed to bringing more companies to NWI to operate alongside global companies like ArcelorMittal, BP and U.S. Steel Corp. These companies have found world-class locations in Northwest Indiana. We should support our business leaders and their quest to ensure infrastructure needs are met. Projects needing support include: promoting and developing the Gary/Chicago International Airport, expansion of the South Shore rail line, development of the Illiana Expressway and mapping the regional fiber-optic grid.
Leaders in K-12 and higher education meet with NWI’s employers, and their message is that they have jobs for a skilled workforce. These jobs require education beyond a high school diploma which include a certification, a technical degree, an associate or bachelor’s degree and beyond.
Safe communities are an absolute must if the region wants to grow and thrive. It’s time to help each other build neighborhoods where every person can feel safe and secure from drugs, gangs and crime. We must teach respect for law enforcement and commit to the idea that it's everyone’s job to have safe and caring neighborhoods. Parents need to be vigilant with supervising their children by equipping themselves with knowledge to prevent cyber predators, social media bullying, drugs and gangs. Know your child, their friends, their habits and their whereabouts. Programs that promote values, service to others, as well as providing mentoring opportunities are critical for the high expectations we want to instill in our children. Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, faith-based organizations, and extracurricular clubs in schools help students be connected, reach their goals and contribute to society in a positive way.
Healthy living is a necessity for longevity and happiness. Business, government, health care, schools and parents all have roles in providing the means for healthy living. We must always demand that the quality of air, land and water is protected and preserved. Our government must strengthen local public health departments to provide essential services. Improved access to social and mental health services is critical. Health care systems are vital partners for conducting comprehensive community health needs’ assessments and plans. Bringing the educational components of healthier living programs to people whether at work, school or the library provides easy access and will contribute to more successful outcomes.
It is recreation that fosters happy living in NWI. We should continue to expand experiences for family and friends to enjoy their time together by capitalizing on the location of NWI for fun, healthy educational activities. Outdoor adventures such as biking, fishing, hiking, swimming, boating and hunting are all ways to take in the region. The miles of beaches, trails and sand dunes are truly a national treasure. The South Shore or a quick drive to the beautiful city of Chicago is another option for opportunities to learn and have fun while visiting museums, theaters, parks and pro sports venues.
A quality education provides opportunity, and must be treated as a valuable asset. Education, along with hard work, are keys to a successful life. The most recent Pew data indicates that people with a degree or certification gained jobs in the recession. Individuals with only a high school diploma or less education lost the most and are struggling the most to recover. We must provide a world class educational system for the jobs we know are available.
Early education is critical for a child's achievement. Education begins at birth. Health care and schools can partner to provide in-home visits with programs like Parents As Teachers to assist parents with this important time of a child’s life. It is hard to imagine that a child does not have to go to school until 7 years old, but that is the law in Indiana. If Indiana is committed to raising academic achievement, it must mandate all-day kindergarten and provide full-funding tuition like every other grade level receives. Total commitment to higher academic achievement also would include fully funded preschool programs for all children.
Increasing certification and college completion requires partnerships. READY NWI is a group of committed leaders from business, higher education, K-12 education and The Center of Workforce Innovations who have united in a unique way to align employability skills and assessments to indicate when a student is ready for college and careers. Model programming is required. Career pathways are critical opportunities needed for students to explore professions. Employers are necessary for providing internships for experiential learning. Early (dual) college credit classes are strategic to helping students graduate college on time to enter the workforce.
Legislators need to collaborate with educators before enacting laws. It is vital to have an understanding of what it takes to have a world-class education system in Indiana. The following are important changes that should be implemented:
a) Restore and properly fund public education, which should end monies being diverted from public schools to charter schools and voucher programs. Funding is critical for early education, college and career-ready curriculum, intervention and remediation, as well as early college classes.
b) Provide consistency as to what academic standards will be taught.
c) Make educator qualifications for licensing strenuous and avoid reducing the requirements to be an educator.
d) Choose a college- and career-readiness assessment plan for grades three through 11 that provides a trajectory for growth and discontinue adding assessments that are not connected or build an accurate profile of a child.
e) Measure school achievement for accountability with a statistically valid protocol.
Education is key to successful employment, safe communities, healthy living, enriching recreation and continued prosperity. Northwest Indiana is made up of proud people who have the potential to continue to make this a wonderful place for families to call home.