The Coalition for Community Schools has selected the Indianapolis Near-Westside Community Schools Project as one of five sites nationwide to participate in the Healthier School Communities initiative. The Near-Westside Community Schools Project is a program of Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center. With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Coalition, based in Washington, D.C., will work over the next three years to strengthen healthcare access with the goal of creating healthier youth and families. In Indianapolis, the initiative will focus on students in the five west side Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) supported by the Community Schools Project.

In addition to Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center, Community Schools Project partner Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) has committed to playing a leadership role in the health-focused initiative by drawing on the health programs of the Indianapolis campus.

The first step in the new health initiative will be to form the Culture of Health Leadership Committee to identify healthcare gaps for families of the school communities – and to create solutions. The Indianapolis team will also network with the other four school communities identified nationally, according to the Coalition.

Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center Executive Director Clark Lienemann says the health-focused opportunity squarely fits in with goals of the full-service community schools project, supported by a five-year, $2.3 million U.S. Department of Education (US DOE) grant awarded in 2015, the second such US DOE grant awarded to the center.

“This comes just as we have begun looking at how we might enhance health services — particularly mental health services — in our school communities,” Lienemann said. “Lack of healthcare access has been identified by our teachers and administrators as an important need. This opportunity promises to help us build a framework to achieve greater healthcare access and healthier families, which directly contributes to greater student achievement for our broader community – the ultimate goal of our full-service project.”

As a result, health-focused leaders in IPS, IUPUI and throughout the city are being invited to participate in the Culture of Health committee. Their efforts will focus on IPS Daniel Webster Elementary #46, William Penn Elementary #49, Wendell Phillips Elementary #63, Stephen Foster Elementary #67, and George Washington Community High School, the schools supported by the Near-Westside project.