Sept. 8, 2017

Drumming class at Ignite Achievement Academy

A DIFFERENT APPROACH – Electives, including African drumming and dancing, martial arts and financial literacy, are infused into the curriculum at Ignite Achievement Academy at Elder Diggs 42. The new IPS innovation school is the brainchild of co-founders Brooke Beavers and Shy-Quon Ely II (below).

When the paths of Brooke Beavers and Shy-Quon Ely II crossed in 2010 while studying for their administrator’s license at Marian University, they both were preparing — in their own ways — to make a positive impact in the lives of children through education.

Brooke Beavers and Shy-Quon Ely II co-founded Ignite Achievement Academy at Elder W. Diggs School 42

They did just that when they launched Tindley Summit Academy together, serving as co-principals. In 2015, it was one of the highest performing elementary charters on the state’s reading exam among mayor-sponsored charter schools.

Although successful, they knew they had more to give. So after years of research studying some of the top schools stateside and abroad (including Denmark and Sweden), Beavers and Ely opened the doors to what they believe is their calling in life: Ignite Achievement Academy at Elder W. Diggs 42. The school opened on Aug. 7.

Ignite (formerly Elder W. Diggs School 42) is the newest innovation school under the IPS umbrella. It’s an accelerated K-6 school designed to propel scholars academically by using a holistic curriculum built on community engagement, project-based learning and socio-emotional and neuroscientific research.

“We have the opportunity to really break some barriers and hopefully become a national model in closing the achievement gap … because (we) know that all kids are capable.” said Beavers.

To achieve this goal, Beavers and Ely designed Ignite to be different.

In addition to the core curriculum (reading, math, science, social studies and history), students are also engaged in weekly electives — from martial arts to African drumming and dance. On a recent morning, some of Ignite’s youngest scholars were engaged in a financial literacy class using paper money and plastic coins to help them understand what money is and how it works — and also how to add and subtract. Even the core subjects are taught differently at Ignite.

“We’ve taken our entire scope of sequence and aligned it to Afrocentric infusion, so our scholars will see themselves reflected throughout their time in school for all subjects,” said Beavers. “There has to be a reason for students to want to be there (in school) and we’re trying to shift that mindset. We have to empower our kids and make them excited to come to school and to be proud of their culture.”

Being different is not only a source of pride, it’s a necessary means to an end.

“Our school is different from a lot of schools around the country,” said Ely. “We are intentional about creating a foundation of science and holistic learning environments so that we take into account the human being. We have different innovative elements such as martial arts infusion to teach self-discipline, respect, honesty, patience as well as physical fitness.”

While their end goal is the same, Beavers and Ely traveled completely different paths before becoming one of the city’s most dynamic education duos.

Eleven years ago, Brooke Beavers moved from Moreno Valley, California, to take a teaching job in Indianapolis, but knew very quickly that her time there would be short-lived. Her daily experiences watching the disparity in teaching children of color ultimately influenced her decision to quit.

Despite her initial frustrations, Beaver trusted her intuition, pushed forward and went to Marian University to receive her administrator’s license. That’s where she met Ely, who had gone through a very different life experience.

“I’d always been around service. From the beginning of my life, I was always shown and taught through the example of my family about service, and what service looks like,” said Ely, who has a number of educators in his family. His father was a devoted pastor and both his mother (IPS administrator Jean Ely) and aunt are teachers. “But seven years ago, I didn’t think I would now end up embarking on creating what I think is one of the most dynamic and innovative institutions in the country.”

Ely, who has degrees in health science, specializes in neuroscience — which he uses to understand and build curriculum around how students learn. In fact, neuroscience research serves as the base for Ignite’s vision.

Viewing teachers as equally important in the vision of Ignite’s impact is also necessary for the progress of the school’s future. As a result, teachers (whose makeup is 55 percent African-American, 33 percent of whom are male) are given two preparations within the day: meditation and mindfulness exercises that they complete daily. They also receive calendar breaks for their mental rejuvenation at crucial points within the school year.

“We can’t do school the way it’s been done.” said Beavers. “That’s the reason why students are unsuccessful, because it’s boring, it’s not engaging, and it’s not even fun for the teachers. We have to be intentional about that.”

The ultimate goal for Beavers and Ely is to implement a strong emphasis on culture within the school through all aspects of academia and to attain overall student growth, socially, emotionally and mentally.

“Our goal is to help kids reach self-actualization,” said Ely. “By reaching their potential and becoming inspired to become lifelong learners, we are igniting their passions to allow them to do whatever it is they want to do in this life.

“We want to absolutely change the scope of life … that’s what we’re after. We’re after empowerment and liberation.”