Aleicha Ostler used 17 years of experience working in Indianapolis Public Schools as well as three IUPUI programs to gain approval to start her own charter school for the fall of 2019.
An IUPUI alumna in both education and educational leadership, Ostler is also using her current graduate-level studies in design thinking to put the finishing touches on the Invent Learning Hub, a charter school for kindergartners to fourth-graders, which will open in August 2019 on the southeast side of Indianapolis. The school, which will be supported by The Mind Trust its first two years, will extend to eighth grade as the first students move up grade levels. Between 200 to 300 children will be the first Invent Learning Hub pupils.
Mathematics, reading and design thinking will make up the three foundations of the Invent Learning Hub.
“My goal when I designed this school was to perform very well academically but also produce students who could think critically and solve problems on their own,” said Ostler, a former principal at Frederick Douglass School 19.
Ostler is finishing up her third stint at IUPUI; this time she’s studying design thinking under visual communication design associate professor Youngbok Hong. Her current project focuses on the Invent Learning Hub’s use of design thinking. She wants to enrich how students think when tackling a project.
“They’re working more on thematic projects,” Ostler explained, “that are taking the science and social studies standards infused together into projects. They are then taking in a community aspect to solve a community-based problem.”
For example, Ostler recently worked with middle-school students to help solve Indianapolis’ hunger crisis. She and the students studied Second Helpings, a local culinary job-training and hunger-relief organization, and Super Micro Greens, a local urban farm, to help understand the problem.
“Design thinking starts with empathy,” Ostler said. “The first stage of solving problems is to understand other people’s perspectives, which to me adds a whole new element to problem-solving.”
Invent Learning Hub’s school day will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., about an hour longer than most school days. The extra time is to make sure that the part of the day focused on design thinking does not take away from math and reading. Each subject is given equal blocks of time.
“We are making sure the students get that intentional, critical thinking piece of their education,” Ostler said.
Hong is thrilled by Ostler’s new use of design thinking in education. Though the professor has taught many future and current educators in the last 10 years, Ostler is the first to take the concepts and apply them to schooling for kindergarten through eighth grade.
“She’s forced me to think of breadth and depth in this way of thinking – to expand the practice enough to include these age levels,” Hong said. “It helps for research, curriculum development and teachers. I’m really, really excited to see how she will change her local community and students by introducing these concepts.”
Before her time as a principal, Ostler was an elementary school teacher at Otis E. Brown School 20 and Eleanor Skillen School 34. She credits IUPUI for exposing her to – and getting her hooked on – molding young minds at city schools. A connection was made, and she hopes to grow that connection in a new way.
“I essentially grew up in a small town,” said Ostler, a first-generation high school and college graduate in her family. “By the end of my student teaching, I had been exposed to inner-city schools and developed a heart for them. I saw a greater need here, and I felt like I could have more of an impact staying in the city.”
As the Invent Learning Hub students advance, Ostler will prepare them for high school and beyond. Sixth- and seventh-graders will be introduced to career paths, and eighth-graders will have opportunities to job shadow. The goal is to help the students choose the right classes to take in high school and to get them thinking about higher education.
“We will then follow them through high school to make sure the family’s following along with the plan,” Ostler said. “This isn’t just a plan for the student, but the whole family.”
Ostler wants her students to gain ACCESS – agency, creativity, communication, empathy, stamina and self-efficacy. This will come from Invent Learning Hub’s personalized learning style of classes: Blended learning will utilize technology suited for the children’s education level, while small-group instruction will ensure attention is given to each student.
School on a mission
“Every classroom will have two adults at all times,” Ostler said. “Essentially, every student at our school will be part of a mentoring team. Every staff member will lead a team, so the groups will be smaller.”
Starting in third grade, students will attend “pathways” classes, which will introduce them to 16 career clusters. Personal skills and passions will be explored.
Ostler will start hiring teachers in January. These initial teachers will be lead teachers and coaches; they will instruct other teachers in the school. Ostler’s goal is to create a community among the teachers. More communication and unity among the teachers can only help the students, she said.
Ostler knows that the design thinking concepts she is learning at IUPUI will help create a new school option for Indianapolis.
“We are trying to create an innovative model that meets the needs of what students need to be successful in life,” Ostler said. “We want them to know their options and how to get there.”