New approach to learning grows through Purdue Polytechnic High School in South Bend

‘I don’t know what you are doing, but my child is so excited about school.’

In a revitalized historic factory complex near the heart of South Bend, almost 50 high school students gather to build their futures.

The students are enrolled in the new Purdue Polytechnic High School South Bend and are embracing a new style of culturally responsive education, individualized learning plans and real-world experiences — all in a former Studebaker factory in the Renaissance District.

The South Bend school is one of three in the Purdue Polytechnic High School system. The other two are in Indianapolis.

Purdue created the Purdue Polytechnic High Schools (PPHS) to serve as an engine of upward mobility by building a pipeline of low-income and minority students to counteract the unacceptably small number emerging from the public education system, not just in Indiana, but nationwide.

The schools provide students authentic, STEM-focused experiences that will prepare them for a successful future. These experiences include internships, industry projects, dual credit courses and technical certifications. PPHS also offers its students a unique path to college; graduates who achieve Purdue’s admission requirements can gain admission to one of Purdue’s over 200 majors.

The revitalization of education is already being felt by South Bend area families, says Bibi Hardrict, PPHS South Bend’s founding principal.

“Families are appreciative for another option and chance for their students in a smaller and individualized setting, as well as the projects. Parents have said, ‘I don’t know what you are doing, but my child is so excited about school,’” says Hardrict, adding that the flexibility allows for a different mindset for teachers, students and families.

Encouragement, passion led to teaching, leading

Hardrict digs deep within her life’s experiences to inspire and lead her students. Her mother is from Puerto Rico and her father from Mexico. Hardrict appreciated their work, sacrifice and encouragement and also had several role models outside the home who inspired her.

“I had an uncle who was a gym teacher. I wanted to be everything like him. He valued education and knowledge,” she says.

“I had a phenomenal AP (advanced placement) literature teacher in high school, and she said to me one day, ‘Bibi, you care so passionately about the things that you do.’ She was overjoyed to have me in her class, because I cared for academic and personal development.”

Hardrict’s high school senior year is when she decided she was going to college.

“I just didn’t think that was for me, that I didn’t have a right to go to college. My family was poor. I didn’t have anyone tell me that I could do it,” she says. “I went to a junior college my first year and then to Bethel College for its education program. I was hired at an inner-city school in Elkhart. I wanted to do more.”

After completing her master’s degree and following a successful 22-year career in Elkhart, she moved to South Bend to teach and work in administration. When she found out PPHS was coming to South Bend, she became intrigued at the opportunity to build a school from the ground up.

“This is what I have wanted to do my entire life. If I’m going to do this and step up in administration, then I want to be a part of this team,” Hardrict says. “To know that I get to be that person is awesome.”

Hardrict and her team of 11 coaches (teachers) and staff members are instilling that sense of value and community-building with the students and families.

“I know for a lot of people it makes it easier for me to say to a student of color, ‘If I made it, you can, too. I’ll be here to show you the process. We’ll get you there. You can be as successful as you want to be,’” Hardrict says. “It means everything. It means even for myself to become greater so I can continue to model that for the school’s young ladies and men. I have to be on my best game every day.”

Small start, giant plans of expansion

The school’s population consists of 14 females and 33 males. While the school’s population is predominately white, Hardrict is addressing diversity outreach to African American and Latino communities by partnering with Gentlemen & Scholars and other area community organizations that work with area teenagers.

Another opportunity for growth comes from the region’s large home-schooled population.

“We have several students coming from homeschool backgrounds. They love the fact we are a smaller school. There’s more one-on-one with coaches,” Hardrict says.

Originally, the first class was to be all freshmen. But as more people became aware of the school, they admitted sophomores and juniors.

PPHS South Bend began accepting enrollments for the 2020-21 school year at the start of the pandemic. “We very strategically and creatively began recruiting in the spring. Little by little, we started getting students enrolled and families began finding out who we were,” she says.

Enrollment applications are now being accepted for the 2021-22 school year. Students and families complete an individualized orientation. The goal for the next school year is 75 freshmen. E-learning options also are available for students.

Hardrict and the coaches guide the students from 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. each day, starting with morning personal learning communities, which allow time for students to meet with their coaches, check in and work independently on projects. They end their days with the coach and restorative practice circles, where they reflect on what they did during the day.

“The best part of the day is the continued access to coaches. No matter what time of day it is or what activities they are engaged in — which sets the expectations differently,” Hardrict says.

Another aspect at PPHS is they are not in a classroom for 50 minutes and then move around. “We are finding they are more engaged and there’s a lot of choice that takes place throughout the day. The students are more engaged because of it,” Hardrict says.

Distinctively different

Hardrict is continually talking with current and interested parents about PPHS and Purdue’s role, as well as the mission and purpose of the school.

“We invite them to see what we are about. Seeing is believing for a lot of people. When they actually come in and see what we are doing with their own eyes and they are able to ask questions, that makes a real big difference for all,” she says. “Students will have opportunities that they might not have had elsewhere. We can be that place for underrepresented students.”

This spring and summer will include hiring additional coaches, launching sports programs for the fall, and finding additional resources and support for the students.

At the end of the day, Hardrict says the main purpose all comes back to the students.

“There were so many uncertainties at the start. New building. New school. New principal. There are more things we can do so we can be everything we need to be for our students,” Hardrict says. “We’re in a great place.”

By Matthew Oates

 

For more information on student registration, donations or business partnerships, and media requests, contact PPHS Network Office at info@pphs.purdue.edu

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