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A Message From the Director

The Castle was founded in 2011, the result of multiple inspirations and conversations and dreaming sessions with teachers, artists, and community members in Putnam County, Indiana. Those of us involved believe strongly that children are not data points, that learning is about spontaneity, exploration, creativity, risk-taking… all those things that can’t be easily quantified.


We are heartsick about the toll that high-stakes testing has taken on our kids and teachers, about the way it has hamstrung the public education system, about the diminished resources and increased emphasis on compartmentalized knowledge. We wanted to find a way to ease the burden placed on teachers to address an ever-expanding set of standards, and to provide students with hands-on experiences that honor varied learning styles and foster connection-building. We wanted to inject a sense of play back into the school day for the teachers who work so hard to meet the mandates placed upon them as well as for the kids who intuitively greet learning as a joyful process. At the same time, we wanted to affirm the public school system as a crucial component of democracy, equal access and opportunity. 

The “way” we happened upon was initially motivated by a chance encounter with Dave Eggers' TED Prize speech, in which he describes the genesis of 826 National, a nonprofit writing workshop serving kids ages 6-18. At the end of the speech, he makes his TED wish, the “Once upon a school” challenge, where he asks people to use 826 as inspiration to get involved in their own local schools and to find creative avenues for community involvement. It was an “a-ha” moment for me. Immediately hooked by his playful energy, I contacted the folks at 826 National, began a conversation with them, and attended their 101 Workshop.


The moment I walked through the door of San Francisco’s “only independently-owned pirate supply shop,” the psychic space I knew we needed to cultivate in response to Dave’s challenge presented itself. 826 National manifests a bountiful, spilling-over-the-seams generosity. It is a welcoming, cheerful, loving space, a space of inclusion and endless possibility. More than anything, the wish to cultivate this same kind of space for Putnam County students is what informs our efforts. The Castle is our “street” name, but our official name—The Putnam County Coalition for Education and the Creative Arts—describes more precisely what we aim to do and who we aim to be.


Coalition is key.


Putnam County is a rich and lively hub of local talent, containing two colleges (Ivy Tech community college and DePauw University). The coalition embraces the diverse resources our community has to offer, recognizes the enormous capacity for learning when everyone expresses his or her voice, and incorporates the multitude of voices into our programming.  Our goal is to create a ripple effect of energy and enthusiasm for this kind of learning that meets students where they are, that helps each student make connections between their lives and what they are learning.  It is a grand experiment we are engaged in: administrators, teachers, community members, artists, writers, musicians, students (primary, secondary and college) collectively building a space marked by authenticity and fostering creativity.

    The Castle is dedicated to providing learning experiences for students where they feel seen, heard, valued and empowered, and supporting teachers in their ability to create environments that spill over with joy, creativity, relevance, rigor and authenticity.
    The Castle aims to foster a learning community embedded within the public school system and based on the premise of reciprocal gifts. We believe that learning is an organic, messy, and fundamentally collaborative process. We also believe that everyone in our community is stronger when we invest in our public schools. By bringing together talented individuals and curious students in a space of mutual respect and high expectations, we celebrate the capacity for shared discovery, self-expression and creative thinking. In the midst of increasing assessment pressures, increasing class sizes, reduced funding in the arts and diminished resources overall, The Castle aims to inject a sense of play and joy back into the classroom for teachers and their students. Our long-term vision is embedded in a community economic development model that identifies education as a key factor in building and sustaining thriving communities. We aim to create a prototype of a 21st century learning community of primary, secondary and college students and educators that can be adapted for towns like those in Putnam County—small towns, with a high percentage of the population living at or below the poverty level, that house a college or university with tremendous resources. The vision, ultimately, is to serve every student in Putnam County, and to transform the culture of public schools in such a way that students come to recognize post-graduation opportunities and pathways that they hadn’t previously pursued.
    The Castle is an independent non-profit organization with a 501 (c) 3 status incorporated as The Putnam County Coalition for Education and the Creative Arts, Inc. The Castle is the name we go by, as it best captures the all-inclusive nature of who we aim to be.
    The Castle provides workshops that offer opportunities for participants to develop 21st Century Skills. The 2011 report published by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, “Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future through Creative Schools,” describes these skills as collaboration, creative and critical thinking, problem solving, dealing with ambiguity and complexity, integration of multiple skill sets, and the ability to perform work across disciplines. The report suggests that these skills are necessary for the global workforce and that they can be effectively developed and sustained through arts education, integration, and project-based learning. Our programming is intentionally standards-based, and we work constructively and consistently with teachers in our partner schools to create workshops that serve their curricular goals at the same time that they provide opportunities for students to practice 21st century skills in high-energy, high-impact ways.
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