HEA initiatives at Elkhart County schools prove successful

Elkhart Truth | Michelle Sokol | February 18, 2015

Business and education leaders came together three years ago to pursue a common vision: “Elkhart County will be transformed through education.”

Horizon Education Alliance, a non-profit organization, was formed to lead the charge and has since launched several programs to spur that transformation.

“Things have started. This train has left the station,” Executive Director Brian Wiebe said in a speech Tuesday, Feb. 17. “This journey that our county is taking is on its way.”

Wiebe delivered the most recent talk in Goshen College’s Afternoon Sabbatical series, which was started in 1977 as a way to connect with the community.

He updated the audience of more than 100 on the status of the various programs being implemented to improve Elkhart County.


HEA partnered with Child and Parent Services to launch the Positive Parenting Program, which gives parents simple tips to manage their children’s behavior, prevent problems from developing and build healthy relationships.

The Elkhart County Community Foundation awarded the program $250,000 during its most recent funding cycle, which will cover about 80 percent of initial program costs.

Resources will be available to parents soon, with training for 20 additional partners beginning in March.

The program, which is widely researched and proven to reduce child abuse and neglect cases, will be the first of its kind in Indiana.


With the help of a fun game called PAX Good Behavior Game, Elkhart County teachers are reporting a 66 percent decline in negative behavior.

Students work in groups and compete against each other to earn the least number of “spleems” — a made-up word for bad behavior — as they work on their regular learning activities.

“It’s gone viral,” Wiebe said.

The game is now used in more than 230 classrooms across Elkhart County’s seven public school districts.


Tools of the Mind is a preschool program being piloted in 20 preschool classrooms throughout Elkhart County.

The program focuses on high-quality classroom play experience to prepare all children — including those with identified special needs and non-English speakers — for kindergarten.

Wiebe showed a video of Shanda Branneman, preschool coordinator for the Elkhart County Special Education Cooperative, explaining the difference Tools of the Mind has made for students.

She said one student with autism went from playing in isolation with a train set to engaging in dramatic play and sharing with other students through the program.


Wiebe said a lot of schools still look like they did 150 years ago, with rows of desks lining the classrooms.

“A lot of people in the country are saying that’s not quite right, that’s not the way we learn, we're more active then that,“ he said.

So HEA is supporting the replacement of traditional teaching approaches with project-based learning and a focus on real-world applications. These programs are described as STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) programs.

York Elementary in Middlebury and Chamberlain Elementary in Goshen are implementing the STEAM approach through something called Expeditionary Learning, and Fairfield Community Schools is introducing the concept across the district.

”Kids just want to be part of something big,“ he said. ”And this is really big and exciting.“


HEA partnered with Ivy Tech Community College to offer early college high school at Elkhart County public schools, providing post-secondary credits and credential opportunities to students at no cost.

Two high schools are currently participating with five more on the path to implementation.

An evaluation of the 2013-14 school year revealed that the program influenced post-high school plans for 85 percent of students and 90 percent of students reported a growth in confidence and motivation.


Nearly 100 students earned their High School Equivalency diploma last year with the help of HEA’s HSEplus! program, which combines computer-based instruction with hands-on learning.

Tamar Wilson was among those students, and she shared her story with the crowd at Goshen College.

”Not only did (HEA) give me key and knowledge to complete my diploma, but also the guide to success,“ she said. ”They helped me create a strategy that fitted me, which made everything less complicated.“