Growing Through Adversity

By Douglas B. Reeves

Elkhart, Ind., once was known as the nation’s recreational vehicle capital, manufacturing RVs by the thousands and feeding the demand of retirees and families who wanted an economical way to travel. It was a working-class community, with about 13,000 students in its schools, and proud of its Midwestern values and work ethic.

In recent years, however, a different sort of notoriety came to Elkhart. Hard-hit by the recession, the town was twice visited by President Obama during the 2008 campaign because it had one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. Prior to the 2008 economic meltdown, the number of low-income and second- language students soared and student achievement, particularly at the high school level, languished.

As the economy grew worse, many expected student results to plummet. Instead, the opposite happened. In 2009, reading and math achievement improved at every grade level, the high school failure rate was cut in half, and Elkhart was named the most improved system in Indiana. 


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