July 3, 2024

Shepherd Community Center’s mission to help neighbors on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis extends well beyond its own campus. Shepherd staff and volunteers also are actively serving students at Arsenal Technical High School. We asked Phil Edwards, Shepherd’s chief engagement officer, about the work he and others are doing at the high school.

1. How is Shepherd supporting students at Tech?

As part of Shepherd’s efforts to help Near Eastside families break the cycle of poverty, we provide staff and volunteers to support and engage with students at Tech on a weekly basis throughout the school year. We interface with students during their lunch breaks and throughout the campus with the intent to build relationships. Students are also invited to participate in our weekly on-campus after-school club. Here we provide students with a hearty meal, fun activities, and meaningful conversations about life and future aspirations.

2. What are common challenges that students are facing today?

Tech students are not any different than typical high school students. These students are all individuals attempting to navigate teenage life with a number of additional challenges such as social media, gun violence, and the constant feeling of uncertainty. They are overwhelmed by the pressures of fitting in and wanting to feel like they belong and are heard by others. I would also say that students are lonely and learning to navigate mental health struggles such as anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression.  

3. What have you learned in ministering to students at Tech this year?

I have been amazed by how transparent students are in expressing how they feel and think about life, and the circumstances they face at such young ages. For example, they are disappointed with the temptation social media brings to create false identities, “get caught up with drama,” and be in constant self-comparison to others. Yet, I have also learned how resilient and determined these students are to live better lives than their parents. One of the most devastating realities that I have learned about students is that they are afraid. They are afraid of losing their lives — a number of them have lost loved ones and friends to gun violence. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear students say that they hope to live to see their 16th, 17th, or 18th birthday. The students have taught me that we as adults have let them down in many respects. 

4. What should the public understand about the obstacles that students and educators face at Tech and other schools?

In my opinion, students and educators face many challenges. It will take the entire community’s involvement to overcome these obstacles. Students are in desperate need of dedicated mentors who will commit to checking in with them and create “safe spaces” for them to share their dreams and goals. Students also need practical opportunities to explore these dreams and goals such as internships and part-time employment. Our educators also need support from community businesses, civic groups, and families, that can help create pathways for students to see how they can turn aspirations into reality.

5.  How can people support the work that Shepherd is doing to assist students at Tech and other schools?

There are a number of tangible ways that people can support the work we are doing to assist students at our neighborhood schools. Local businesses and restaurants have already provided meals and other resources for Tech students and educators. I would like to publicly thank them for their contributions: 

  • King’s Ribs, the downtown Chick-fil-A, Jockamo Pizza, and Lincoln Square Pancake House – Irvington
  • Meijer – Cumberland provided a cookout and snacks for Tech’s Teachers Appreciation Week
  • The Right Knee Open Annual Golf Fundraiser  
  • ACS Signs provided signs and a banner for Tech’s Teachers Appreciation Week
  • Arabella Home provided hygiene kits for students 
  • Shepherd Community Center provided resources for students and educators throughout the school year.

Arsenal Tech is the largest IPS high school, and there are many ways that the community and city can partner with Tech. A great place to start would be to contact Phil Edwards to ask how you can help: Phile@shepherdcommunity.org

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