Is it White Flight or Class Flight?

 Shawnta S. Barnes, in 1st grade, pictured with her younger sisters shortly after her family moved into a home that was within the boundaries of desegregation busing.

Shawnta S. Barnes, in 1st grade, pictured with her younger sisters shortly after her family moved into a home that was within the boundaries of desegregation busing.

Recently, I came across the article, “‘White Flight’ Remains a Reality.” Based on Census Data, the author states, "Whites continue to leave neighborhoods with significant levels of non-white residential growth.”  I assert middle and upper-class black people move when neighborhoods become too black and brown too especially if those families are in poverty and in Indianapolis the flight disruption happens in layers.

Indianapolis is an interesting city.  Within Indianapolis’ boundaries, there are eleven school districts: Indianapolis Public Schools, two incorporated town districts, Speedways Schools and Beech Grove Schools, and eight Township schools.  According to an article published in Chalkbeat Indiana, “10 districts surround Indianapolis Public Schools. That’s by design: State lawmakers wanted to avoid local backlash, so they chose not to merge school districts when Indianapolis and Marion County unified in 1970 under “Unigov.”

This is hard to explain to relatives in other cities or states.  When I tell a relative that my boys attend Washington Township Schools, a response I’ll often hear is, “I thought you lived in Indy, not the suburbs.”  Then, I explain that I do live in Indy, but there are 11 schools districts and Indianapolis Public Schools is not the only school district in Indy. The only explanation I can give is the truth.  We have 11 school districts because of racism.  The townships were mostly white in 1970 and they didn’t want to integrate into one big school district.

Then, integration was forced in Indianapolis through the desegregation busing where students from some neighborhoods within Indianapolis Public Schools were bused out to the townships and my husband and I were counted in that number.  When the townships started to become more diverse, white families began to move out of the townships and left Indy for the suburbs.  A few years ago, the desegregation busing was completely phased out, but the damage is long lasting and I feel complicit.  

When my husband and I were bused out to Lawrence Township, we rode on the bus for over 30 minutes right by cornfields.  Over time, the view outside the bus window started to change and new homes were being built. After the “white flight,” there was the “minority flight.”  Some black and brown families who could afford to leave moved out of the boundaries of IPS and into the new subdivisions that were being built in the various township districts that were forced to accept students bused from IPS.  My mother-in-law and my parents could have moved but chose to stay.  As my father put it, “I have always lived in IPS and I don’t need to move now. There are good people in our neighborhood.”

Even though my husband and I lived within IPS our whole lives while we attended school, when we were house hunting IPS was not a choice.  Our top choice was Lawrence Township and tied for second was Pike Township and Washington Township.

When your family sends you off to college and you return and don’t want to live in the neighborhood, you face hell from some family members.  We faced hell because as one family member said, “Ya’ll did the unthinkable.” The unthinkable was choosing not to buy the family home.  My grandmother owned a home on Arsenal Ave. My uncle became the next owner and he wanted to sell the home to us, but because the house was in IPS we said no.  The lecture we received about playing into the hands of people who were gentrifying the city is one that sticks with me to this day.  My family members were right and that’s is exactly what happened.  My uncle sold the home and then it was flipped and resold for more money than it was purchased from him.

This is my 12th year as an educator and this school year and the previous two school years, I have been employed by IPS…and it isn’t the easiest truth to admit that I work in a district where I wouldn’t buy a house.

Among our black professional friends, we are split into two groups, those of us that live within the township boundaries and those of us that left Indy and moved into the suburbs.  Even though most of us lived within IPS’ boundaries as kids, none of us choose to live there today.  This is why I feel complicit.  Part of me wonders how our neighborhoods would be different if those of us who went to college and are now working as professionals would have stayed in our neighborhoods.

I’m not convinced that the ‘flight’ is solely a race issue; it is also a class issue.  I’m not scared to go into my old neighborhood, but I am fully aware of certain activities that take place.  I’m also not naïve; I am fully aware this sort of criminal behavior is taking place in the townships and even in the suburbs.  Maybe in our search to find a better life, we are ignoring that we could have had a good life if we would have stayed put or stayed in those more diverse neighborhoods.  Even as I ponder this thought and conclude this piece, I still don’t see myself selling my house and moving into IPS' boundaries anytime soon. 


Five Ways Parents Can Maximize Spring Break for Their Kids


Not every family can travel during spring break. It may not be in the household budget to fly to Disney World or to an island paradise. Sometimes parents have to maximize spring break for their kids in other ways. Unless parents are teachers they do not get a full week off work like their kids do, so parents have to use their time wisely to help their child maximize spring break. Here are five ways parents can maximize spring break for their kids.

1. Spring Break Project: Parents can do a spring break project with their kids. Kids will look forward to having a project to work on each day. The project can be an indoor project like building a Lego robot. The project can even be something outdoors like planting flowers in the garden in the backyard. No matter how big or small, a spring break family project is a great way to ensure your kid has something to share about break when he/she goes back to school after spring break.

2. Kid Freedom: The best source of information to find out what your kid wants to do over spring break (if you can’t afford a trip) is your child.   Children are full of ideas. As the parent, just make sure you provide supervision. Giving your child a choice will make them feel empowered during their break.  

3. A Day Trip: We have already talked about how some parents cannot take an entire week off work, but parents might be able to take a day off to take a day trip. Day trips are always fun because families can wake up to hit the road and be back home at a reasonable time. The best day trips are typically to places that are no more than two hours from home. A day trip will be worthwhile for you and your child.

4. Take Your Kid to Work: Whether they admit it or not, some children really do wonder what their parents do all day long. They wonder what it is like to be at their parent’s job. If you have a job that wouldn’t mind you bringing your child to work, then over spring break pick a day where you can take your kid to work. Then, they will see what a day in your shoes is like. This is also a great time for parents to talk with their kid about careers and college.

5. Kick Your Kid out the House: Now-a-days kids like to be in the house. With so many technological options such as PlayStation, Xbox, MacBook, and cable television, kids do not play outside anymore. Spring break is a great time for your kids to break out their bikes and rollerblades and get some fresh air. Make your child go outside and play with the kids in the neighborhood. Force them to have some fun outside of turning their eyes red and getting finger blisters because of video games.

Kids do not really understand how quickly that week or two weeks of spring break will fly by. That is why it is up to parents to make sure spring break is still fun even if you can't take a big trip. If you do not have any ideas, use these tips to help!


David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Phenomenal Indiana Woman: Cherie Sanders


Cherie Sanders began her career with children by supporting preschool students, but today she is a middle school counselor at Chapel Hill 7th/8th Grade Center (CHC) in the MSD of Wayne Township.  Although, Cherie’s path to become a counselor wasn’t direct, every step along the way was preparing her to serve students within the school setting and beyond.

When Cherie began working with preschool students, her family was concerned.  With a chuckle, Sanders recalled, “My family thought I didn’t like kids, but I did.  I was just hard on them.”  Working with students, even preschoolers, was the spark she needed.  Later, Sanders transitioned into a role working as a paraprofessional for SOAR (Students Owning Achievement in Reading) classes at Chapel Hill.  

Even though Sanders enjoyed working with middle school students, she wasn’t sure she had found her path in life.  “I had been praying to God and I was wondering what my purpose was.  I was wondering what I was supposed to do,” Sanders shared.  She realized she was spending more time in the hallway talking to students than working with them in the classroom to improve their reading skills.  “Two of my colleagues, Kevin Kendall and Jennifer Schaffer, were in a school counseling program and after some researching and soul searching, I decided to enroll.”

After completing the program, Sanders was torn.  She loved Chapel Hill, but knew school counseling jobs were hard to obtain.  At the end of the 2015-16 school year, she left CHC and took a position as a Family Academic Support Liaison for Hoosier Academies.  After winter break, she resigned and returned to CHC to take on a mid-year school counselor vacancy. 

As her purpose became clearer, Sanders knew there was more she needed to accomplish and her father was her inspiration.  Beaming Sanders shared, “My father, Alvin Sanders, was always very supportive of other people.  He always did anything he could to help others.”  Not knowing the person was not a barrier for Mr. Sanders.  Sanders continued, “He would help people stranded at the gas station; he would help people with their tires.  His passion was helping kids find direction in life and my parents, who have been married for 31 years, instilled in my sister Whitney and I that we should have a big heart and give to others.”

When Cherie was a senior in high school, her dad had his first stroke and was paralyzed on his left side.  A couple years ago, he became seriously ill; his health continued to decline until he succumbed to his illness.  Sanders reflected, “My sister and I decided to carry on our dad’s legacy and we founded About My Father’s Business, a girls mentoring program.”

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With support from their mom, Yvette Sanders, the Sanders sisters’ organization targets girls from age 9-18 in Gary, Indiana.  They meet with the girls twice a month, one session is a mentoring session and the other session is an exposure outing.  “We want to open the floor to women of color our black girls don’t normally see.  We had a black female farmer and at our last session, we had a jewelry entrepreneur who sells her line in Macy and Carson’s,” Sanders stated.  The girls are able to reach out between sessions to touch base.  It is also important to Cherie and Whitney to ensure the girls are also exposed to opportunities they might not be exposed to in their home life such as an auto show.  Sanders recalled, “Growing up, our friends would have Jordans and our parents had the money for those material things, but they believed it was more important to spend that money on outings to expose us to various experiences.”

In the future, Sanders hopes to expand About My Father’s Business to Indianapolis and other areas across the state.  “We are really excited to work with as many community partners as we can.   There are more opportunities now than when I was in school and I want our girls to become the best version of themselves.”

Sanders has this advice for young women: 

What I try to instill in young women and girls is your life has to be driven by purpose; we are all here for a reason.  When you live your purpose and live life purposely, things will be better for you. It can take a while, but you shouldn’t worry about the timeline.  You have to try new things and you have to fail.  It’s alright to say ‘that’s not for me,’ but once you walk in your purpose, it makes a world of difference.  Finding your purpose will make your life worth living.

During Women’s History Month, we salute this phenomenal Indiana woman and her efforts to mentor girls and help them find their purpose.

You can learn more about Cherie Sanders' organization About My Father’s Business on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or phone 708.998.AMFB (2632).

Also, check out these phenomenal women: 

Phenomenal Indiana Woman:  Shavonne L. Holton

Phenomenal Indiana Woman:  Nikia D. Garland

Women’s History Month Tips for Your Classroom

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March is Women’s History Month. Half of the month has already gone by. Have you taught any women’s history? Have you been celebrating the accomplishments of women? If not, don’t panic. You have come to the right place. Here are some tips to ensure you give your students the Women’s History Month they deserve:

1. Incorporate women’s history into the subject matter you already teach.

Just like Black History Month, teaching women’s history doesn’t require a teacher to completely abandon their standards and long-term plan. Best practice is to incorporate women’s history into the content you already teach.  Women have made enough contributions to society that you can organically include them in pretty much every subject.

  • Teaching the Civil War? Talk about the contributions Clara Barton or Susie King Taylor made to medicine.

  • Teaching chemistry? Incorporate Marie Curie into the conversation.

  • Teaching literacy? Be sure to have your students read the work of female authors.

2. Allow student interests to direct your teaching.

Often times, teachers feel the need to teach against their students’ interests when in fact they should be incorporating them into their lessons. For example, many of my students are into watching and creating makeup/hairdressing tutorials. Why not use that opportunity to introduce them to Madam C.J. Walker?

As previously mentioned, you don’t need to abandon your standards, but for the most part, it is much easier to use your students’ interests as a conduit to teach them the content they actually need to know.

3. Don’t neglect the present.

Remember, you aren’t just teaching history; you are living history too. There are plenty of contemporary women and women’s issues that are relevant and worthy of discussion in class. Talking about Malala’s crusade for women’s education in the middle east may not qualify as “history,” but it will definitely be considered history one day. Why have your students wait years from now to learn about it?

Current events are just as if not more important than history. The month is called “Women’s History Month” but if you are truly following the spirit of the month then you will discuss current events and accomplishments along with those of the past.

4. Don’t forget women of color.

We often talk about schools neglecting the accomplishments and contributions of minorities in history. Women’s History Month is no different. Make sure your class is shown a wide variety of women from various backgrounds in your discussions. Women are not a monolith and there is no “single story” for women so make sure you use many types of experiences. The best way to do this is to incorporate women of color into your content for Women’s History Month.  

It’s not too late to educate your students about the accomplishments and contributions of women. The first step is to try. Hopefully, these tips will help you do that.  


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Four Ways Teachers Can Maximize Their Spring Break


To my fellow educators,

Twenty seven weeks are now in the books. You have made it to spring break. Another opportunity to reset, relax, and recharge. Many of you have been counting down to this break since we returned from the winter break. Now, it is here and this is the last break until the final home stretch. Here are five ways teachers can maximize their spring break.

Do Not Grade/Do Not Plan: This break is about resting. This is not a time to get ahead or try and catch up. The only thing you should be catching up on during this time is sleep and Season 2 of This Is Us. It is called spring break for a reason and not spring extra work. Also, if you are thinking about when to return to school during your break  to plan - don’t! Take my advice and have your lesson plans for after spring break ready before the final bell rings to signal spring break.

Hang out with non-teacher friends: I am sure not all your friends are teachers and if they are then this is time to find some new friends. Teacher friends are good when school is in session for venting because they understand your day to day grind; however, on break they can be bad. When you get teachers together, the conversation is usually about school, the students, and that last staff meeting that could have been an email. During this break, find friends who are in different professions and hang out so you can have a break from school talk.

Find a Staycation: Sometimes going on vacation and flying to a beach can be draining, and you don’t get the rest that you actually deserve. A staycation allows you find the hidden gems around the city. Take some days to explore the city where you live and visit places you have never visited or haven’t visited in a while.

Sleep In: Don’t set your alarm clock. Do not plan appointments before 10:30 a.m. Take this week or two weeks to just sleep in. Even if you cannot necessarily sleep in, just rest in bed. For the past nine weeks, you have probably been getting up before the sun rises and been counting down until when you do not have to worry about that annoying alarm. Now, that time is here, so enjoy it.

The time after spring break is the hardest part of the school year. It will be made even harder if you do not get the proper rest and if you do not enjoy your spring break. Take my advice and maximize your spring break.



David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Does DeVos Really Want a Safe and Nurturing Environment for All Students?

“Get out! Go to ISS!”


If I had a dollar for every time a student was kicked out of class, I could retire from teaching now.  We have a problem in Indiana and in schools across our nation.  Classrooms are out of control and teachers are struggling to create a culture of learning within their four walls.

I had great mentors early in my career that helped me learn that building relationships with students is key. This is the foundation teachers have to build upon to be able to teach in their classrooms.  The problem is many teachers don’t have the supports or tools to learn how to improve classroom management nor do their schools have systems in place to help them.

This is why I started following House Bill 1421 School Discipline and gave testimony to the Senate Education and Career Development committee in favor of the bill.  This bill aims to reduce the number of times students are out of the classroom due to exclusionary practices.  It requires schools to have a plan beginning with the 2019-2020 school year to train teachers and provide professional development to help school staff handle discipline appropriately.  This is important because  the U.S. Department of Education in 2014 released data showing Indiana as one of eleven states with higher gaps than the nation between the suspension rates of black male and female students versus their white counterparts. Indiana was also one of five states that reported higher suspension rates for every racial/ethnic group.

We have to start at the local level to help Hoosier students because federal protections might not be there for our students.  In a recent 60 Minutes interview, journalist Lesley Stahl described US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as a ‘devoted deregulator’ meaning she is undoing past legislation.  DeVos stated her department has, “begun looking at and rolling back a lot of the overreach of the federal government in education.”

Part of DeVos’ role is overseeing students’ civil rights.  According to the interview: 

She’s now considering scrapping the Obama era guidance on how to identify, avoid, and remedy discriminatory discipline which aims to prevent schools from punishing students of color more harshly than their white classmates.  

When asked to respond to why she is considering scrapping this guidance, DeVos stated,  “We are studying that rule.  We need to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment and all students means all students.”  The problem is DeVos is not worried about all students.  In this same interview, she admitted that in her home state of Michigan where her family’s name is plastered across buildings, she has not visited struggling schools.  Educators know that in addition to academics many struggling schools have discipline issues.  The truth is DeVos wants ‘a safe and nurturing environment’ even if that means removing students and if all of those students happen to be black, oh well.

This is why I assert, we all have to get involved at the local level.  We can’t wait on the federal government to save us or our students.  I’m pleased to report HB 1421 was passed out of the Senate with a vote of 46 to 3.  If you know anything about policy, during each round amendments are made.  I’m concerned about the most recent amendment made when the full Senate passed the bill.  The amendment states the DOE may not "require or pressure a school corporation to adopt any aspect of the model plan," and the DOE "cannot conduct reviews, other than any reviews the department currently conducts, of school discipline plans.”  Essentially, a school could have a crappy plan and implement poor training and the DOE could not conduct a review or suggest the school follow the model provided by its department.  Although, I don’t like this; I don’t believe hope is lost. 

Once Governor Holcomb signs the bill, it becomes law, but our work doesn’t stop there.  As parents, educators, and community members, we are the stakeholders who should hold our local schools accountable.  You should be aware of what is taking place and if you believe the discipline practices at your child’s school is not right, speak up and take action.

The History of Title IX and Women’s Sports

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This time of the year we have grown accustomed to the excitement of college basketball. The Men’s NCAA tournament has become a fixture of March in America. Increasingly, the women’s tournament has become a big TV draw too. Last year the women's college basketball title game between Mississippi State and South Carolina drew an audience of 3.8 million people, up 29% from the year before. This trend extends beyond women’s college basketball. Women’s sports have become way more popular across the board.

As popular as women’s sports are today, many people can still remember a time when that was not the case. In the not so distant past, women’s sports were relegated to the club and activity level in all but a few schools. If you were at a university in the 70s, you would be lucky to find an intramural team for girls basketball or softball. If you were REALLY lucky maybe even a club team.

So, how did we get from women’s sports being an afterthought to almost four million people watching a women’s championship game? Title IX.

In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Executive Order 11375. This order was essentially a follow up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “Sex” or “Gender” was not among the categories included in the Civil Rights Act. Women’s advocacy groups pressured the government until eventually, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the executive order.

Executive Order 11375 essentially prohibits entities that take government money from discriminating on the basis of sex. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was charged with enforcing this order in higher education. They discovered huge disparities in hiring, pay, and promotion practices in higher education. The government addressed this in the Education Amendments of 1972. This piece of legislation includes a law called Title IX:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance… (Department of Labor)

These lines of legislation are the lines that covertly changed everything for women’s sports. Most people thought the bill only applied to basics like hiring and that was by design. Edith Green and Birch Bayh essentially concealed the broader effects of the bill. Green specifically kept public support for the bill under wraps as it made its way through Congress out of fear the support would reveal the true scope of its power. This wasn’t hard to do considering that Title IX never actually mentions sports. It was thought of as a bill simply to protect girls from discrimination.  Once the bill was passed, the actual scope of the law was realized. The sports aspect of the bill wasn’t lost for long. It was a bill that protected girls from discrimination, and that included protection from discrimination in school-sponsored sports.  Additionally, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare made it clear that Title IX applied to high schools too.

Several attempts to neuter the law ensued. First Texas Senator John Tower attempted to get an amendment passed that would exempt revenue sports from Title IX compliance. The NCAA then filed a lawsuit challenging the very nature of Title IX by attempting to claim athletic programs didn’t directly receive federal funds. Both of these attempts failed.

The government also clarified the three main ways schools should “test” whether  institutions were Title IX compliant:

Proportionality: Girls should receive approximately the same percentage of athletic opportunity as the percentage of girls in the student body. Meaning if girls are 50% of the student body they should have about 50% of the athletic opportunities. This is why many colleges add a new sport for women at the same time they add a sport for men.

Progress: Schools must add new women’s sports regularly.

Satisfied Interests: Schools must satisfy interests of female students based on survey and regional popularity.  

In the years since, courts have upheld and further defined critical aspects of the bill. Some of the more interesting rulings and clarifications dealing with Title IX are:

Under Title IX, Plaintiffs may sue for monetary damages.

Cheerleading is NOT a sport and thus cannot be used in place of another women’s sport like volleyball.

Federally funded institutions must submit annual reports about their athletics, so the government can monitor Title IX compliance.

The fight and controversy over Title IX is not over. Betsy DeVos is attempting to depower some of the original pieces of the legislation in regard to sexual assault on college campuses. If she is successful ,expect sports programs to take another crack at getting out of complying with the regulations.

That being said, there is no question that Title IX, for all of it’s controversy, has been the single most impactful legislation for women’s sports. At the time Title IX was passed, only 15% of college athletes were women. That figure was even lower for high school at 7%. Such ratios are not even legal today. Gaps still remain and may remain for a while. However, if simply passing a law can take the NCAA from not even offering a women’s basketball champion in 1972, to having 3.8 million people watching it in 2017, it stands to reason that opportunity plays the most critical role in the progress of women’s sports.


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

What DeVos Failed to Say


Being a parent who exercises school choice, I completely agree with giving families choices when it comes to their children's education. Having the choice to choose where my children have received their education has made all the difference in the world for my family.

As I watched Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stumble over questions regarding the continued failure of public schools in her home state of Michigan, I wanted her to speak up!  

I wanted her to inform the public those same schools have been failing minorities and impoverished students for decades. School choice was created to give families and children quality education options. The continued failure of the traditional public school system is all the more reason to give families other school options.

I was waiting for her to address why our traditional public schools are failing and how to address the problem.  I wanted her to stress that public schools - charter and traditional - should be quality choice options also.

I thought she would talk about how choice has brought change to schools in Indianapolis. I thought she would highlight how Indianapolis charter school and public school leaders are working together to create quality education options to the public school system.  She didn’t. 

What people need to know is school choice is not about abandoning traditional public education. It is refusing to surrender to the idea that poor and minority students are incapable of learning.



Cheryl Kirk

Mrs. Kirk is a married mother of three children, 16-year-old twins and a 9 year-old son, who all currently attend private school on a voucher. She is a Gary, Indiana native but has lived in Indianapolis for many years. While trying to provide a quality education for her children she met many obstacles and became determined to access the best education for her children. Cheryl is a licensed practical nurse and has worked in home care, hospice, long-term care, and is currently the clinical director for an assisted living facility.

Phenomenal Indiana Woman: Nikia D. Garland

 Nikia D. Garland at the Pink Ribbon Celebration Survivor's Luncheon

Nikia D. Garland at the Pink Ribbon Celebration Survivor's Luncheon

Nikia ‘Nikki’ D. Garland is in her 17th year as a high school English teacher.  This Broad Ripple Alum currently teaches at her alma mater.  Three years ago, a diagnosis helped this educator extend her impact and reach beyond the classroom.

“One day I was doing a self-check and found a tiny lump.  It took me a month to work up the courage to go to my general physician,” Garland shared.  After an ultrasound, mammogram, and two biopsies, in May 2015, Nikia received a call while teaching at Broad Ripple.  The office of the surgeon who biopsied my breast contacted me while I was at work. The lady on the line stated that I needed to schedule an appointment with the surgical oncologist to 'get those cells out of there,'" Garland recalled. “I left and went home.  An extreme fear swept over me.  I was terrified of dying.  I was already a widow.  Who would care for my children?”  Later, on June 1, 2015, Garland met with an oncologist and received her breast cancer diagnosis.

At first, Garland thought she would have a lumpectomy, but after further evaluation, her doctor informed her, the plan needed to change to a mastectomy.  “I had never missed the beginning of the school year.  The day before the surgery, I had to meet with the plastic surgeon.  He marked me up and I just cried and cried.”  Garland had her first surgery July 14, 2015.  Because she was disappointed her first surgery caused her to miss the beginning of the school year, she had her reconstructive surgeries throughout the school year during fall break, winter break, and spring break to ensure she would not miss another moment with her students.

Psalms 46:10 NKJV, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” was the scripture that kept Garland anchored during this difficult time.  While battling cancer Nikia came across John Piper’s pamphlet,  “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.”  She knew she could use her story to bless others.  “I am a very private person and I struggled to tell my story.  If God didn’t want me to have breast cancer, He could have stopped the cells from spreading,” Garland explained.  “My best friend Cherrell Rice-Jones died from breast cancer and sharing my story is a way to carry on her legacy and to glorify God.”

 Susan G. Komen Project Pink Fashion Show

Susan G. Komen Project Pink Fashion Show

Next, Garland became a Susan G. Komen Ambassador where she represented the organization during the months that led up to Race for the Cure.  After she completed her ambassadorship April 2017, she joined Sisters in Pink, a new program that began July 2017, where she serves as a Breast Health Educator.  “Sisters in Pink is targeted to black women to address the disparity between the death of black and white women from breast cancer.  Although black women are not as likely to get breast cancer as white women, when they do have it, they tend to have the more aggressive forms of the disease such as triple negative,” Garland explained.

 Nikia D. Garland and her senior girls advisory class preparing package for Race for the Cure.

Nikia D. Garland and her senior girls advisory class preparing package for Race for the Cure.

Even her students have been involved in her work. She took her advisory senior girls class to volunteer at Print Resources.  This is the business that produces materials for Race for the Cure.  Garland recalled, “We assembled the packages and boxed them up for team and individual pick up.  It was a good learning experience.  They asked how they could volunteer throughout the year.”

One barrier Garland has faced is getting an audience in the black community.  “Breast cancer has a stigma especially in the black community.  People don’t want to talk about bad things especially since cancer is associated with death.”  Despite the barriers she has faced, Garland believes she is making a difference.  Recently, she spoke at the Pink Ribbon Celebration Survivor's Luncheon. “I spoke a couple Sundays ago and about 20 people told me how impactful my speech was.  I have supported a former colleague.  I shared my story with a former student who was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.  I just try to keep people uplifted.”

Garland has been cancer free for two years and nine months and has this advice for women: 

Women need to do self-breast checks.  Most insurance companies won’t cover the cost of a mammogram before the age of 40.  You also need to have regular check-ups so your doctor can do the clinical exam. Be educated about breast cancer.  Two months before I found that lump, I heard a guy tell a story about his father dying of cancer in his thirties.  I thought, if anything, I would have diabetes because of my family history.  I wasn’t educated enough to know that you don’t have to have a family history or have to have the BRCA (breast cancer) gene.  I would never have thought I would get cancer.  I was 37 when I received my diagnosis.  The median age is 62 and fewer than 5% of women under 40 are diagnosed.  You need to know your body. 

During Women’s History Month, we salute this phenomenal Indiana woman and her work to support women during their breast cancer journey and to inform women about breast health.

Nikia D. Garland offers breast health presentations free of charge.  

Email -

Phone - 317.397.5069

Also, check out these phenomenal women: 

Phenomenal Indiana Woman:  Shavonne L. Holton

Phenomenal Indiana Woman:  Cherie Sanders


Student Activists Should Be Well Informed


I had good veteran teacher mentors early in my career who encouraged me to include current events in my classroom lessons as a way to engage students.  I have always followed that advice. For our quick write last week, I asked my students to express how they felt about the #enough National Student Walkout on March 14 to bring attention to school shootings and common sense gun control laws.  I was surprised to learn my students were unaware of the walkout, so they didn’t have anything to say.  After explaining what happened in Parkland, Florida, what student activists are planning to do, and why they are protesting, my students were able to write their responses.  Most of them felt the protest was necessary.  Many of them didn’t believe a school shooting could happen at our majority minority urban school and they didn’t understand how walking out of school was actually going to stop another kid from doing what the Parkland, Florida shooter did.

However, students in my school spoke up. They asked our principal for permission to participate in the walkout without penalty. She granted them permission as long as they leave out of Door 3 promptly by 10:00 a.m., stay in the courtyard, and return to class by 10:25 a.m., they would be allowed to take part in the walkout.

Now, that students know there is no penalty for leaving class, I believe there will be a mass exodus today. They’ll walk outside not because they understand the protest, but because teachers like me brought it to their attention or because of the relentless media coverage.

Is this real student activism?  Switching from my teacher role to my parent role, I wonder if schools are playing into the misunderstanding of student activism.  I live in Washington Township and Sunday evening parents received guidelines for what they would permit at the high school, middle, and elementary level.  My twin sons are in first grade.  Other elementary parents and I were surprised there was even an elementary option.  One parent told me, “They don’t need a walk in instead of a walkout; they need stay in class.”  

This is what the letter said about elementary schools:

WT Elementary Schools

The elementary schools will operate on a regular daily schedule.  Students may even be completing the IREAD 3 assessment during this time.   We are unable to maintain normal safety and security measures while supervising elementary students outside during a walkout.  We need your support assisting us in this serious safety issue.  Therefore, the alternative at the elementary level will be an optional “walk in” supervised in the gymnasium from 10:00-10:17 AM.  Students who do not participate will remain in their classroom for normal instruction.

 Activism should not be a fad and students shouldn’t participate because everyone else is doing it.  It’s hard work and many times you don’t get what you want.  Typically, there are consequences.  Today, some youth feel entitled to get whatever they want.  For schools to make alternative plans for elementary students, who are probably not discussing the school shootings and who do not understand the process it would take to change the gun laws in our society, without the properly educating our children about the policy process are doing a disservice to our students.

I’m interested to see how many students stay involved in the movement behind the walkout after today.  I support student activism as long as students are well informed and understand that activism is more than 15 seconds of fame and a hashtag.