Education connection: New director focusing on resources for schools

Using new digital cameras and other equipment, Franklin Community High School students made a documentary drama remembering the flood of 2008.

Children who didn’t learn best sitting at a desk were given the opportunity to try “standing desks,” which led to more attentiveness in class and better grades.

Students at Northwood Elementary School were given access to 100 new books in a massive literacy enhancement.

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The ever-tightening budgets subjected on Franklin schools have made such unique educational projects impossible through normal funding channels. The Franklin Education Connection has stepped up to provide for those most worthwhile projects.

For Chelsi Harper, it’s imperative that support is maintained and expanded. Harper was named the new executive director of the Franklin Education Connection in July, replacing former director Bea Northcutt.

A former teacher, the 27-year-old is excited to serve students in her hometown in a new way.

“I think it’s really important for teachers and students to know that their community around them have resources for them. That’s what we’re all about — connecting our schools with those resources,” Harper said.

Harper’s connection to Franklin education stretches well into her childhood. She grew up in the city. After graduating from Franklin Community High School in 2007, she majored in education at Franklin College.

“I think education has the power to change the trajectory of anyone’s life, and that’s what attracted me to it in the first place,” Harper said. “My teachers really were able to empower me, guide my trajectory to where I was going in life and see a bigger picture of what life was about.”

She taught middle school for four years in Clark-Pleasant and Brownsburg schools.

But once her daughter Molli Bell Harper was born in 2015, her focus shifted. Harper enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, but also wanted to stay active in education around her hometown.

Around the same time, the executive director position at the Franklin Education Connection was open. Former director Bea Northcutt had stepped down from the job.

“It was kind of an answered prayer. I could still be home with my daughter and be working in education, just in a different avenue,” she said.

She applied in early 2016. By mid-summer, the Franklin Education Connection board had voted her as the new director.

“We felt that Chelsi brought a skill set that really helped us from a fundraising standpoint, working with local businesses and other local entities to help us most in our mission,” said Andy Kinsey, the connection’s board of directors president. “She brought insight and a personality to provide that we need to accomplish what we’re trying to do.”

The Franklin Education Connection serves two roles for local schools.

The longtime function has been to raise money and award grants to Franklin teachers to use for innovative programs in their classrooms.

Since it was founded in 2010, the organization has given out more than $64,000 to teachers.

One recent grant is funding a GoldieBlox program to encourage science, math and engineering skills in young girls. Another helped Creekside Elementary School purchase “active” seating such as yoga balls to encourage learning in students who struggle with focus.

“Teachers can get that extra funding to do something really special in their classrooms,” Harper said. “There used to be this mentality that all a good teacher needed was a chalkboard to teach anything. But what we’ve learned is that the teacher might be able to teach anything, but for the student to learn anything, they might need some extra equipment along the way. That’s where we come in.”

But one of the group’s new missions is organizing the Study Connection program. Volunteer adult mentors serve as “study buddies” for students needing extra guidance and help in school.

More than 130 mentors are now part of the program, working with kids at the elementary and intermediate school levels.

Plans are in place to have an off-site Study Connection session, where students are bused to NSK to work with mentors at the manufacturing plant. The arrangement will open up a greater window for volunteers who want to give their time, but might not otherwise be able to do it, Harper said.

As Harper steps into her new role as director of the organization, her initial goal is to partner with more businesses in the community to help increase their funds.

“In a small community such as ours, when two organizations can come together and both win in the end, it’s a good thing,” she said. “So we’re really looking forward to some fundraising events that can bring in more partners. In the end, we’re all doing it to empower students.”

Ideally, the organization would reach a point where their funding level allows them to award grants to any worthwhile project that applies.

Expanding the foundation’s funding base would also allow a scholarship program, to help Franklin students attend college, Harper said.

Her job will be to help the organization reach that point. With her background in teaching, it’s a mission she sees as vital to the community.

“I’ve always been very passionate about education. I think it’s one of the biggest catalysts of change in any community,” Harper said.

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<strong>Chelsi Harper</strong>

Age: 28

Home: Franklin

Family: Husband Chris; daughter Molli Bell Harper, 20 months old.

Occupation: Executive director of the Franklin Education Connection

Education: Graduated from Franklin Community High School in 2007; graduated from Franklin College in 2011