In order to support and foster the entire school ecosystem, we must recognize that we need to invest in every aspect of the academic experience. By making long term investments that support academic programming and operational support, we can positively impact all facets of a child’s development and future success, writes Josh Hale, President and CEO of Big Shoulders Fund.

It’s widely understood that education is key to future success – as individuals, and as communities. Yet, almost every community in America is struggling with the issue of finding enough resources to support the educational needs of its schools – public and private. And that’s no less true in Northwest Indiana.

It’s clear that adequate financial resources are integral to the vitality of schools and student outcomes, but it’s important to acknowledge that the way in which that money is invested is equally significant. Effecting true change begins with supporting the entire school ecosystem. In order to broaden horizons and produce positive results for students, their families and their communities, we must work to make long-term investments in the success of schools in Northwest Indiana.

Recent research conducted by the Learning Policy Institute reveals that investing in students and their schools can reduce the disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes for children, especially for low-income families and students of color. The study further establishes that adequate and equitable school resources are associated with higher student achievement.

I was reminded of the significance of this recently at an event at St. Casimir School in Hammond, IN, during which Bishop Noll Institute Principal, Lorenza Pastrick, emphasized that education is the only statistical indicator of creating equity among populations. “In Northwest Indiana, it is imperative that we find the resources necessary to better level the playing field for our youth,” she remarked to attendees.

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Her words echoed the sentiment of the event, which celebrated the recent announcement of a $16 million investment in 20 elementary and high schools in the Catholic Diocese of Gary. Through a collaboration between Northwest Indiana natives, Bruce and Beth White, and Big Shoulders Fund, a charitable organization that provides support and assistance to schools that primarily serve students from low-income backgrounds, this investment will provide funding and programming that will impact nearly 6,000 students in Northwest Indiana over the next decade.

Investments and partnerships like this new initiative in Northwest Indiana, that extend beyond a cash influx and bring operational and programming resources that will enhance the capacity of school communities, are integral to leveling the playing field and setting each and every student up for future success. If we embrace schools as an ecosystem, then we recognize that we must foster each and every aspect of the learning experience.

This isn’t to say that financial assistance isn’t an integral part of this equation. St. Casimir in Hammond and St. Stanislaus in East Chicago, two schools that recently joined the Big Shoulders Fund network, were listed among the top five schools with Choice Scholarship Program students enrolled in the 2018-2019 school year. By complementing existing programs like Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to eligible students to help offset tuition costs at participating schools, with additional financial and scholarship support, along with academic and operational improvements, leadership development, and engagement, we can help lower the financial barrier and ensure more children have access to a quality values-based education. Students in schools in the Catholic Diocese of Gary that are supported by the Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana Initiative will have increased access to technology, curriculum support, data coaching, and financial aid they would not otherwise have.

Schools anchored in a values-based tradition and welcoming of all in a safe, structured environment have also shown success in educating children, supporting families and encouraging service to others. In fact, 94% of Big Shoulders Fund students graduate from high school, 85% enroll in college, and those who graduate from college do so at two times the national rate. Beyond graduation, BSF alumni are successful and go on to do big things in their communities. In a recent survey 38% of alumni reported volunteering, nearly 75% had donated to a charity in the last year and 75% reported being employed full time.

Evoking change and strengthening an educational system is challenging work, but we are making a long-term commitment to the region with multifaceted support. Big Shoulders Fund intends to work collaboratively to close the gap on disparities to ensure we’re cultivating environments that produce more productive student outcomes and, in turn, thriving communities.

Josh Hale is the president and CEO of Big Shoulders Fund, which invests in 75 Chicago area schools serving nearly 20,000 students. The opinions are the writer's.