Vanguard Collegiate: Small School, Big Dreams
In our new blog series, ‘Meet Our Schools’, Teach Indy will share the work of schools across center township uplifting the vision and mission for student success through the eyes of educators in the buildings.
Vanguard Collegiate is an independent charter school on the west side of Indianapolis that was founded in 2018. They currently share space with the Hawthorne Community Center and serve students in grades 5-8. “We are unapologetically a college prep school,” Alyssa McIntyre noted from the get-go. McIntyre is Vanguard’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction. She’s also a social studies teacher at the school. “We prepare scholars for college and life outside of school. Our goal is to have students leave us as leaders in thought, word, and action.”
Beyond the core of reading, math, and critical thinking skills, Vanguard is intentional and thoughtful in offering fine arts like dance, theater, robotics, multimedia arts, and more. Partnerships with Hawthorne Community Center and other entities make this diverse set of offerings and resources possible despite the school’s staff, and their enrollment, remaining purposefully small.
Big Ambitions for Students
Talking with the Vanguard team, one thing is abundantly clear: there is nothing small about their ambitions for kids. In many ways, this is exemplified by the multiple hats each team member wears. The leadership team includes the school’s Executive Director, Robert Marshall and other founding team members McIntrye, Bobby Thomas and Tina Siddle. Thomas is Vanguard’s Senior Director. He’s also a 5-6 math teacher and spends time coaching teachers as well. Siddle teaches 7-8 math but also serves as Vanguard’s Director of Scholar Experiences.
While McIntyre, Thomas, and Siddle might be classified as school admin, they all spend time teaching classes each day. That’s on purpose. Since its founding, Vanguard has built in time for administrators to teach classes and build direct relationships with students. It is also a way for Vanguard to grow the leadership of its educators without forcing them to leave the classroom behind. Thomas says, “The kids are why I show up to work every day. Oftentimes, the higher you go in a school, the farther you get from students and the less informed decision-making becomes.”
McIntyre notes that another benefit of keeping admin connected to the classroom is that “Admin decisions are easier because we have full context and informed perspectives on what students are thinking and feeling. We can also better coach teachers as a result.”
A Diversity of Student Experiences
The dedication of Vanguard staff to the student experience really showed up when they turned to talking about the why behind the many experiences they offer students. “At Vanguard, there’s a huge emphasis on preparing students for what is next,” Thomas shared. Even though Vanguard only educates middle schoolers, they are deeply concerned with making sure their students leave them on a trajectory where high school success is a given and college is more than attainable.
Thomas says, “Our students will not be the ones who get to high school and don’t know how to advocate for themselves or who don’t know how to cite sources on an English paper. A previous experience I had teaching at the high school level made me think, why aren’t we exposing kids to these things earlier? Oftentimes, kids just know sports and video games but they deserve more than that.”
Providing that extra means Thomas and the rest of the Vanguard team called in favors, leaned on resources, and pulled together as a school community to offer an array of student experiences that rivals much larger campuses. “The sooner kids see the possibilities, the more time they have to explore interests and see what might be next for them,” Thomas explained. “Robotics could put students on a STEM pathway or dance could put a student on a performance pathway.”
Emphasis on High School Preparation Through Rigorous Mathematics
The emphasis on extracurriculars and fine arts is not at the expense of core subjects like reading and math. Siddle in particular is a die-hard about the importance of middle school students completing algebra before they go off to high school. “Not being able to read is a problem that gets a lot of attention,” Siddle noted. “But a lot of times, schools pass over kids who cannot do math. I believe algebra separates the haves and the have nots. If you understand numbers, you cannot be cheated.”
Siddle’s determination shows up in the fact that every Vanguard student is required to take algebra by the end of 8th grade. Scholars participating in Vanguard’s high ability programming can earn high school credit for their algebra course, which gives them a jumpstart when they arrive in high school.
“It Feels Different Here”
According to McIntyre, Thomas, and Siddle, their approach is winning over students. Siddle said, “Scholars want to be here. Buy-in from students makes staff feel good about showing up as well. It feels different here.” Thomas recalled their recent fall break, when a student called him to ask if he could come back to school early because he missed the Vanguard environment and routine.
Vanguard is a student-first place. Describing a school in those terms may seem trite, but when McIntyre says, “We are all hands on deck to do whatever is best for our scholars,” those aren’t empty words. They are words backed by a host of actions that are transforming the futures of middle school students on the west side of Indianapolis.”
We thank the incredible educators of Vanguard Collegiate for sharing their experience: Alyssa McIntyre, Director of Curriculum and Instruction and Social Studies teacher; Tina Siddle, Director of Scholar Experiences and 7-8 Math Teacher; Bobby Thomas, Senior Director and 5-6 Math Teacher; and Robert Marshall, Executive Director