Learning Partner Spotlight: CAST

Q&A with Cassandra Summers-Corp, Executive Director at Creating Avenues for Student Transformation (CAST)

Cassandra Summers-Corp,
executive director at CAST

Creating Avenues for Student Transformation (CAST), a tutoring and mentoring organization based in rural Salem, Indiana – was formed in 2014 to address a unique dilemma. At the time, students who were considered “middle-aged” (6th-8th graders) were lacking support, and living in a service desert. Many families found that their students were too old for a babysitter, but too young to be left on their own during high-risk hours. Recognizing that these students were beginning to slip through the cracks of the education system, CAST rose to the occasion. 

Today, the organization continues to expand its local reach, becoming an approved Indiana Learns Learning Partner in November of 2023. We sat down with Cassandra Summers-Corp, executive director at CAST, to discuss how Indiana Learns has helped the organization reach high-need students in Salem.

Q: Tell us a bit about the early beginnings of this partnership. What value did CAST see in Indiana Learns that led to the organization becoming a Learning Partner?

A: As COVID funding sources began their sunsetting process, we began trying to figure out how to maintain our current students in a way that prioritizes those with the highest level of need in our community. Around 60% of our students receive free or reduced lunch. During the pandemic, Indiana Learns became a way for us to ensure that the kids who absolutely needed services, could continue to receive them. 

Q: How has CAST garnered the level of engagement needed from local families to participate in Indiana Learns?

A: Through Indiana Learns, we’re able to address issues that otherwise would have prevented families from getting services. The biggest way the program helps is by eliminating the cost. We have quite a few families who are living ‘on the edge’ – they make ends meet, but certainly can’t afford $100 to $150 a week in tutoring costs. Because of the learning loss grant, we’ve been able to offer these services free of charge.

Q: CAST is uniquely aligned with its Southern Indiana Dyslexia Resource Center. Can you talk about how this came about, and how it can support Indiana Learns families?

A: When CAST was first launched, we started as a tutoring and mentoring organization to provide free programming for those ‘middle-aged’ students, primarily in 6th-8th grade. We weren’t well trained. We were just people who wanted to make a difference!

But we began to realize that many of the students couldn’t read proficiently. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to secure grant funding to create a Southern Indiana Dyslexia Resource Center, providing Science of Reading aligned training for educators and explicit, multi-sensory, high-impact tutoring for our students. Now we have about 4 years of actionable data for over 150 local students.

Q: For families receiving CAST tutoring through Indiana Learns, what has the feedback been so far?

A: One parent of a 4th grade student, who has been attending biweekly ELA tutoring sessions for approximately 2 years, has had great things to say about their experience:

“Tutoring has made reading more fun and less work for my child. He is less anxious now because he can read more. Tutoring has been a blessing for us!”

More about CAST:

CAST was recently awarded an Expanding What Works grant through the Indiana Department of Education to establish Southeast Summer Learning Labs in partnership with The Mind Trust and Lavinia Group. As the only grantee south of Indianapolis, CAST will be able to continue providing reading and math intervention for up to 100 students in Washington County this summer.

Get registered for summer learning here!