Eleven Fifty Academy is so excited to be working with many community partners on our Advancing Tech in 46218 initiative. Thanks to the support of a grant from Lilly Endowment through its Enhancing Opportunity in Indianapolis initiative, we are collaborating with many area stakeholders to open the doorway to tech for residents of the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood. We recently sat down with Shelley Ashley, Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana’s Senior Director of Mission Advancement, to talk about her work at The Excel Center and how the organization connects central Indiana adults to new opportunities.
What is The Excel Center?
The Excel Center is a tuition-free high school for adults to achieve their high school diplomas. We operate at 15 different locations across central and southern Indiana through our Goodwill territory. Across all these campuses we help individuals move toward education, employment, and increased earning potential. Our students are earning a high school Core 40 diploma, not a GED. To support this, we provide wraparound services like childcare and transportation assistance.
In addition to their Core 40 diploma, we help our students complete dual credits or an
industry-recognized certification. That is one of our graduation requirements, that students must earn college credit or an industry certification. This is because we recognize that we are serving adults who need to get their education and get moving into a career pathway.
What are the major achievements you have made as an organization in the community?
Since our program started in 2010, we have graduated around 6,000 students. 60% of those have school aged children or younger. Our achievements are not just transforming the lives of our students but also making a generational impact on their children and other family members. Our teachers and life coaches work with our students to help them gain skills and social capital to navigate the challenges that come through life.
If you want to see a glimpse into the work we do, there is a documentary called Night School that followed the lives of three of our students. It is a great snapshot not just of our students but also our staff.
What has been the relationship between The Excel Center and Eleven Fifty Academy to date?
We have partnered with Eleven Fifty for five or six years by sending students there who have IT aptitude and interest in growing those strengths. It is part of our mission to help all students align their interests with opportunities. Eleven Fifty is a great partner for us in the pipeline from high school to the next step launching a fulfilling career. The partnership has inspired us internally to equip our teachers and design our curriculum to support students in acquiring tech fundamentals. We offer or have in the past offered a variety of tech certifications such as COMPTIA+, COMPTIA Fundamentals, or basic Microsoft Office. Some of our teachers have gone through training to build out this curriculum in a way that supports our students down the path to Eleven Fifty or other tech programs. At graduation we want students to be able to see their bridge into the next step of whatever career they aspire to.
What are the barriers to entry in tech that you think programs like Advancing Tech in 46218 help students overcome?
I think one barrier is just being aware of the opportunities that exist. One of the things I think about a lot is, how do we get more exposures and diversified exposures to career opportunities for students? When we ask adult learners what they want to do after graduation, it’s often something high-level like “help people.” What we have to help students do is understand the wide and vast workforce landscape and help them gain opportunities to learn more about what kinds of jobs are out there. In many cases they haven’t had the opportunity to explore the job market so we try to guide them to an epiphany in that regard. We believe the Advancing Tech in 46218 initiative will be a very intentional way to make students aware of some of the most meaningful and high-paying jobs in the economy today.
A lot of the time, digital literacy is another gap for our students. They know how to use a smartphone or may have basic computer skills, but beyond that is an exciting opportunity to acquire more skills. The Advancing Tech in 46218 initiative will also provide more structure and intention around the skills that can be developed, showing students jobs they can achieve and helping them connect to the necessary post-high school training.
What excites you about the tech job opportunities in Indianapolis right now?
For our students, it’s the chance to get a foot in the door at the entry level. Tech offers lots of entry-level jobs that allow students to enter the tech space, use the competencies and skills they have already developed, and grow their career along with their mastery and interest in IT.
We know that when you learn technical skills, there also must be context on how they are applied. Finding an entry level job is where growth can really be launched. The trajectory of someone’s life can be changed as they also meet employers’ needs. We really try to encourage our students to be lifelong learners, constantly reevaluating their goals. So, starting from a place of alignment and opportunity is a major benefit to keep them on that path.
What would you say to an adult learner hesitating to take the next step in continuing their education?
It’s never too late. It’s not too late for you. One of the things I think is special about The Excel Center model is that we have students that enroll who were maybe lacking one credit to graduate. Others are those who never even attended high school. And we also serve students anywhere in between. We work with each student individually to develop a plan to help them get to their goals.
That’s what I want people to know. It’s a myth that it’s too late or you can’t do it. This is a judgment-free place where your past doesn’t matter. We want to help you look ahead and move towards your new goals. And what we really appreciate about our partnership with Eleven Fifty Academy is we know they share those values.
We’re so excited about the Advancing Tech in 46218 initiative. We love so much the collaboration, innovation, and the partnership that have already developed and will continue to deepen. There is a huge tech need in Indianapolis, and a huge group of people with interest who need help finding the path. We are excited to be helping students change the course of their lives and the lives of their families. We are delighted to see where this goes for our students.