It started as a homework club. The year was 2001 and Sally Bindley saw a need. The school-based social worker noticed additional challenges facing her students experiencing homelessness, and she wanted to do something about it.
"That first year, she grabbed her mom, she grabbed her best friend, her best friend grabbed her mom and they went to a shelter," said Claire Brosman, the vice president of grants and communications for Brightlane Learning. "The four of them worked together, grabbed a handful of other volunteers and it was kind of like a homework club. They just helped kids after school with their homework."
That homework club turned into an organization called School on Wheels and for more than 20 years, it helped students and families experiencing homelessness navigate the education system. They worked with kids in shelters, community centers, transitional living facilities and schools − meeting students wherever they were. They helped get them enrolled in school, partnered them with volunteer tutors during the school day and worked with them after school.
Nothing about that work has changed, Brosman said, except their name.
School on Wheels becomes Brightlane Learning
Last year, School on Wheels changed its name to Brightlane Learning. They wanted to better reflect the service that the organization provides, she said, especially in light of how they'd expanded in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic upended many families, increasing housing instability and disrupting learning for thousands of kids. In short, more kids than ever need the help that Brightlane provides.
And the old name confused some people, she said, who thought the organization was an actual school rather than a program that works within them.
"We just needed something that spoke a little bit more to the stability that we provide, because we are just a consistent bright path," she said.
They're providing that bright path to more students than ever. Already in the first semester of the school year, Brightlane has worked with nearly 500 students, nearly as many students as they served all of the last school year. In two years, they've grown from working with 18 partner locations to 31 − many of which are schools. Much of the expansion, she said, is into middle and high schools.
Students experiencing homelessness were already at far greater risk of dropping out of high school than their housed peers. Then the pandemic hit, setting back students from every walk of life. While learning loss has been seen across the board, it's nearly double for the population Brightlane serves, Brosman said. So, the organization is building capacity and expanding into more locations to ensure students have the extra support they need to access their education, regardless of their housing situation.
"It's so much more than just an after-school homework club now," she said. "It's just this multifaceted approach to ensuring that students and families have the resources and support they need to have a stable education and the foundation for a stable future."
What is your organization's mission?
Brightlane Learning transforms the lives of students impacted by homelessness and housing instability with personalized tutoring and academic support while advocating for their families as they navigate the educational system.
How many people do you serve?
Last school year, Brightlane served more than 700 students and parents. This year, they expect to serve more.
What is your organization's No. 1 need?
Brightlane's top need is monetary donations, which are critical to ensure they are able to provide tutoring and academic support programs at no cost to every student and family served. Donations can be made online at www.brightlanelearning.org.
How can people get involved?
Become a volunteer tutor by dedicating one hour each week. Brightlane will provide the tools, training, and ongoing support you’ll need to become a life-changing force for children experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.
Support Brightlane on a leadership level by joining one of our committees or by engaging your company in special projects or donation drives.
Making a difference with IndyStar: Support Season for Sharing
The shared mission of IndyStar’s Our Children initiative and annual Season for Sharing campaign is to harness the power of journalism to make a difference in the lives of Central Indiana youth. We invite you to join us by making a financial contribution. The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust will match donations dollar-for-dollar, up to $25,000. All charitable donations are tax-deductible.
Funds raised during this year’s campaign will be distributed in early 2023 to organizations serving primarily Marion County youth and families.
Go to indystar.com/ocdonate to give online. If you prefer to send a check, please mail to: Central Indiana Community Foundation, Attn: Our Children, 615 N. Alabama St., Suite 300, Indianapolis, IN 46204. You also can donate by texting “SHARING” to 80888.
Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at 317-201-5620 or email her at Arika.Herron@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Brightlane Learning has new name, same aim to educate homeless youth