Indigo Stories

These posts feature stories and case studies of schools, educators, and students who partner with Indigo.

Colorado Impact Days

Indigo Education Company is honored to be one of 60 organizations selected for the 2019 Colorado Impact Days, taking place next week from March 11th to March 14th. Colorado Impact Days was founded as a way to connect social enterprises and nonprofits with individuals and foundations looking to increase their impact on their communities. On Tuesday, March 12th, CEO and founder of Indigo, Sheri Smith, will present Indigo Education Company and its vision to change the education system starting with the individual.

This marks the fourth year of CO Impact Days, a venture that has helped invest over $201 million in social enterprises and nonprofits since 2016. The event will take place at the Curtis Hotel in Denver and includes the National Opportunity Zone Summit, the Social Venture Marketplace, and speaking engagements from foundation leaders and investors.

Empathy in STEM

On February 9th, 2019, CEO and founder of Indigo Education Company Sheri Smith spoke at the University of Colorado, Denver for the Department of Bioengineering’s event Women as Innovators: Creating Success in the Workplace.” Speaking to a group of 30 female engineering students from multiple disciplines, Sheri was able to share with attendees the importance of practicing empathy and bringing a woman’s perspective to male-dominated STEM fields.

Visit for more information on indigo’s work in Higher Education.

Athletics meet Non-Academics: College Basketball Team using Indigo to Up Their Game


(Version of this story published in Niagara Gazette).

Coach Bill Beilein isn’t only teaching offensive and defensive strategies to his players, he’s also teaching how to work with people different than them.

Coach Bill Beilein is tackling sports head on with Indigo.

Coach Bill Beilein is tackling sports head on with Indigo.

Beilein is the head men’s basketball coach at Niagara County Community College, and this season is a momentum builder. It’s the best record he’s seen at NCCC as the head coach, including decisive victories over teams like Henry Ford College (95-47) and Isaiah Christopher Academy (107-59). His goal is to capitalize on momentum to make NCCC a destination school for junior college athletes.

As Beilein and his assistant coach Mike Corbi continue to further their success, they have to dive deeper into how to develop players. “Some of the questions we have to answer are how will we grow together and understand each other?” said Beilein, “Also, who are we as a team and what are our ideal circumstances for peak player performance?”

Beilein now has the luxury of taking a step back to understand the individual strengths of his players, and how he can capitalize on them both on and off the court. He needed to understand who are the young men that make up his team.

Regional Director Natalie and the Niagara County Community College basketball team.

Regional Director Natalie and the Niagara County Community College basketball team.

Beilein brought on Indigo to learn more about how he can improve the human dynamics on his team. Indigo provided the Indigo Inventory to engage students in who they are and how they can work better together.

The work changed the dynamics of the team. The Inventory helped both the coaches learn more about how to communicate with and motivate individual players. It also helped the team better understand how to talk with their coaches. Beilein is a dominant, loud, move quick and act quick kind of coach who should be approached with big-picture things. Corbi is more of a low-key, consistent, detail tracking coach who can handle the day-to-day, granular issues of each player.

NCCC team players discussing the results of their Indigo Reports.

NCCC team players discussing the results of their Indigo Reports.

It also helps the coaches identify opportunities to develop students outside of athletics – character, academics, career future. It helps focus on opportunities to bring the best out of players, and translate that success to life off the court.

One of Indigo’s focuses in Western New York is to create more opportunities to connect students to career pathways and opportunities based on their strengths. “There is a huge push to expand conversations like the ones happening with NCCC’s basketball team in schools,” said Indigo Program Director Natalie. “Our goal is to reach more than 50,000 New York students in 2017 so that we can help students find that spark that will drive them in life.”

Through Natalie, Indigo Project is working with 10+ high schools and community organizations, including entities such as Liberty Partnerships, Lewiston-Porter, Lockport, Grand Island, and Niagara Global Tourism Institute. 


Two Roads Assistant Principal Writes Academic Paper on Indigo

Teachers at Two Roads Charter School in an Indigo Training.

Teachers at Two Roads Charter School in an Indigo Training.

    John Waters, rocking the backward hat.

    John Waters, rocking the backward hat.

John Waters is an Assistant Principal at Two Roads Charter school. He’s a four-time “Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers” and knows where all the good places to eat are in Westminster (trust me, we went to Dae Gee last time). In my opinion, he’s one of the most chill High S and High C’s I’ve ever met.

Not only is Waters clocking 40+ hours a week working with the Two Roads family, but he’s also working on his masters right now at the University of Colorado Denver. He did an organization profile on Indigo Project this past fall, interviewing multiple members of the Indigo team to learn about what we are doing.

We loved his paper. Not only is Waters a sharp operator, but he’s worked with Indigo for nearly a year now at Two Roads. He’s seen us from a researcher and client perspective. This is how, in his eyes, he sees our mission:

“To understand Indigo Project’s mission is to also understand that students do not achieve success in secondary education solely through standardized practices and methodologies. While all good teachers know that there are various learning styles within each classroom … many struggle with how to dig deeper in knowledge of their students … Indigo enters when a school wants to deconstruct these and discuss solutions and opportunities for growth.”

                Students at Two Roads' Littleton campus after an Indigo Student Workshop.

                Students at Two Roads’ Littleton campus after an Indigo Student Workshop.

There are no systems or standardized practices that meets the needs of students in secondary education because there are no systems or practices that fits for everyone. Students are different, and Indigo helps deconstruct what makes students who they are. We build solutions with administrator teams.

One of the great things about Two Roads is that their entire administration team is on board with the work Indigo is doing:

“Because the administrators at my school are committed to understanding our students beyond their academic performance, we felt there were missing pieces in our puzzle of holistically developing our student body…Our leadership team was frustrated with our students’ low state-level standardized test scores because we knew they were learning but struggled to perform well on the tests’ markers.”

Two Roads’ district, Jefferson County Public Schools, is beginning the conversation around non-academic outcomes (NAO). JeffCo is working to create more opportunities in development for growth mindset, grit, collaboration, and mindfulness to name a few.

Two Roads' teachers talking about what personalized education would look like at their school.

Two Roads’ teachers talking about what personalized education would look like at their school.

NAO is still in its early days, and districts everywhere are working to define what it is, how to measure it, and what “impact” really means. It’s part of the conversation we are having with Two Roads currently. It takes time. It takes effort.

Waters knows that the newness of NAO means it will take time to see tangible results. Although the long-range goals are still being discovered in Indigo and Two Roads’ partnership, Waters still believes Indigo is part of the future of NAO:

“If Jeffco and other school districts in the state or nationwide choose to explore NAO, I would advocate strongly for Indigo Project despite my school’s lack of identifying definitive outcomes at this time.”

This is what we’re most excited for in 2017. Now that we’ve established our presence in Colorado, New York, California, and Arizona (projects in over ten states), we are working to build new tools and platforms that will allow schools to do even more than they are already doing with Indigo data. We’re discovering new ways to make non-academic data intersect intelligently with curriculum, counseling, analysis, and most importantly, building personal and meaningful human relationships that matter.

We’re not a perfect company, and we’re still growing into who we are. But it’s always encouraging to see schools give honest opinions, help us grow, and stand by us as we continue to move forward in the mission of impacting one million students. Because students, at the end of the day, are why anyone who works at Indigo gets out of bed in the morning.

                           Director Joel Kaplan teaching improv after a student workshop.

                           Director Joel Kaplan teaching improv after a student workshop.

Student Voice: Ahrash

Student Voice: Ahrash

April 25th, 2016, written by Nathan Robertson

I met Ahrash in a Kansas City suburb. I was working with 100 or so students doing workshops at his school, Blue Valley CAPS. At the end of the day, one of the administrators pulled me aside.


“Hey Nathan, can you talk with one of our students? I think you may have some good advice for him.”

“Sure. What’s his name? Anything I should know about him?”

“His name is Ahrash – he owns his own business. He’s trying to increase sponsorship for gaming tournaments he runs, thought you may have some good thoughts for him.”


There is something you don’t hear everyday – an 18-year-old seeking advice on business sponsorships.

Ahrash is as intense and passionate as you might imagine. Not only is he running a business, but at the time he was working on a research paper about why testing is not an effective way to prepare students for the real world. He’s a teenage business owner writing about how the education system hadn’t served him correctly.

After 20 minutes with him, I knew I had to get Ahrash on our website.

I’ll get out of the way to let Ahrash do the rest of the talking. Below is a short interview of him talking about his journey, his thoughts on testing, and why he thinks more schools should look like Blue Valley CAPS. If that is not enough to inspire you, scroll down to read his research paper.

Our youth are powerful. They have passions. They have a voice. Is your school empowering students to speak in this way?

The Effects of Academic and Standardized Testing on a Student

By Ahrash Karbasi

In today’s society students are being bombarded every day with test after test, resulting in grades going down, and in some cases, depression. There are many students sitting through an 8-hour school day learning things that they don’t want to because the school cannot offer a class to teach them what they want to learn, leading them to not try for tests and assessments. Because high-stakes academic and standardized tests fail to measure a student’s future academic potential or creativity and cause undue stress for students of all ages, academic and standardized testing should be eliminated as much as possible.

High stakes tests can be different for every student. For a student who is doing poorly in the class, it could mean that every test counts towards them graduating and passing the class. For someone that takes tests easily without the need to study, Finals, the ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams are probably the high stakes tests. People may wonder who makes these tests; why are they so hard, and why do they decide your future. Alfie Kohn explains in his book The Schools Our Children Deserve, that there are these so called “educational authorities” that have been given the right to create a test that decides ones future. However, those people did little to take into account the different: learning styles of students, skill levels, or even where they went to school. Kohn also explains in his book that students that are in a lower income based town are inherently going to be worse test takers and in turn more trouble makers. It is almost impossible for the “educational authorities” to take these multiple factors into consideration even though they should, after all, it is a test that decides the rest of your life. If the school system continues like this, with these standardized tests and college entrance exams, we will end up living in a society much like the society in The Giver. People will start taking tests and it will decide where they will be “placed”, like they have no choice at all, almost exactly The Giver portrays when they have young teens placed into their “correct job”, apparently fit for them.

There are multiple alternatives to the methods that we have now. Howard Gardner explains in his novel The Alternative to Standardized Testing that schools and testing methods should change to how most pre-industrial societies were like. They slowly integrated children and young teens (depending on skill level) to a hands on learning environment and gave them a learning figure based on not only what they were good at, but what they wanted to do as well. Gardner isn’t the only one talking about this. Khon and Gardner both talk about apprenticeship learning in their novels. Apprenticeship learning is a fancy term for saying hands on learning. It’s the more modern version of the pre-industrial integration/learning process for teens. Very few schools around the world give students an opportunity to do things like this. For example, Blue Valley CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies) does this almost perfectly. With the combination of connections, guidance, and tools, the students are able to not only have a more relaxed and comfortable environment to work in, but they also go off campus for research, meetings, learning sessions with mentors/sponsors. That combination gives an edge up in the real world for students that have the opportunity to do such things. They have basically been introduced to the work force, giving them insight on what they would like to do after high school or college. However, the only way they are going to get to any of those jobs is by passing all of those exams.

Some may think that testing isn’t bad at all. And personally I agree with that, most people do. Testing is a great way to set aside the prepared versus the unprepared. However that’s only in ideal conditions. There are multiple factors to take into consideration when looking at students test scores, from if they studied to just having a bad day or week during the testing period. I interviewed Nathan Robertson via email after listening to his presentation over Indigo at CAPS. Indigo’s main goal is “empowering students with non-academic assessment and analytics”. Meaning that they go around providing schools with a different method of testing. One that shows a student’s weaknesses and strengths. Robertson is working with his team to bring this to a national or even an international level, shifting the current regime of testing to a more modern version of placement testing. Even Robertson says, “Testing in itself is not inherently bad. It’s important to discover an objective metric by which to measure achievement. Where I think our education system is currently struggling is that tests such as the ACT or SAT do not account for the things that make us human. How do you account for creativity? How do you measure presenting skills on paper?” Just like Robertson said, there is no way the SAT or ACT can measure a students passion for a project, creativity, and certain skill sets. The only thing those tests can do is tell if a student is good at memorizing equations, viewing and analyzing charts, as well as working through a math problem. He goes on to explain how standardized tests have no way of proving one’s career success, or how they will act and live in the real world.

            Laura-Lee Kearns explains in her section within the “Canadian Journal of Education” that an improvement in test scores doesn’t always mean an improvement in learning. Just like Robertson said in my interview with him “… a school can prove they are ‘good’ if their ACT scores rise, or ‘exceptional’ if a certain percentage of students get over a 30.” Meaning that it’s just a false sensation of someone getting better. Sure they might get better at memorizing it, but did the student really learn that, and are they even going to remember it past high school, or college?

Students aren’t the only ones effected by this push for more testing. Stress is brought upon teachers as well. A student and teacher can only teach do so much when being lectured and pushed by his/her parents, administrators, peers, or even the media. That is exactly why “…standardized testing brought about a real sense that there was a lack of care and concern for their well-being and that of their peers.” (Kearns 118) School used to be people’s safe place, their go to when they had stress and just needed to focus on something they were passionate about. Teachers used to be the ones students went to for help, not only with school but life choices as well. Now all of that is just clouded up by the stress that the administrators push onto their teachers and students. “Some students not only expressed ‘shock’ and a lack of understanding at the test results, but some felt ‘shame,’ ‘degraded,’ “humiliated,’ ‘stressed,’ ‘a little less smart,’ ‘like a loser,’ and expressed ‘fear,’ upon learning that they had failed.” (Kearns 119) Those things that students think about themselves cause so much stress, sometimes so much that they cant handle it anymore, leading to increased dropout rates, depression, or even in worst cases, suicide, all things Kearns says in her study. The educational system is beginning to become corrupted and turning into the opposite of what it was meant to be.

Even many intelligent and very smart people have to deal with things like this all the time. I personally struggle with theses high stakes tests every day. My high school administrators will look at my ACT score and my GPA and deem me an “at risk” student (qtd. in Kearns 115) Meaning that I might not even pass or graduate, and that I certainly don’t have the potential in college or past that. However, they don’t look at the long lasting business that I have been working on for 2 years, one that has gotten me scholarship offers to schools that know my grades and ACT scores, and even gotten me money after the point where I started braking even. The school again, doesn’t take necessary things into consideration when they should. Nathan Robertson talked about how he too was affected by this for 19 years, trying to figure out why the educational system was like this and what he wanted to do with his future. He said, “I was a kid that didn’t fit the high school system. I had 30 on the ACT but only a 3.0 GPA. I was bored, restless and unable to see the value in my education.” And that’s exactly what brings students down, some that are even too accelerated for their classes become affected like Nathan was. That’s exactly why he started working at Indigo. He wanted “to help students make those type of discoveries about themselves when they are younger. The sooner you figure out what makes you tick and how you can be confident in that, the sooner you can go out into the world and do big things.” Assessments that Robertson and his team at Indigo create should be the new method of testing in today’s modern society.

Overall, testing isn’t a bad thing. And many anti-testing representatives agree with that. There is just a limit. There should be testing in the form of quizzes, unit tests, and maybe even finals. But to go as far as having a test such as the SAT or ACT decide the rest of your life for you, well that’s a line that shouldn’t have been crossed in the first place. After all, we don’t want to end up living in a society like The Giver.

Works Cited

Gardner, Howard. Evaluation in Education and Human Services. Vol. 30. Boston;

Dordrecht: S.n., 2000. Print.

Herman, Joan. The Effects of Testing on Teaching and Learning. Washington, D.C.:

Distributed by ERIC Clearinghouse, 1990. Print.

Kearns, Laura Lee. High-stakes Standardized Testing and Marginalized Youth: An

Examination of the Impact on Those Who Fail. Http:// St.

Francis Xavier University, 2011. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving beyond Traditional Classrooms

and “tougher Standards” Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. Print.

Reddell, Samantha. High Stakes Testing: Our Children at Risk. Print.

Robertson, Nathan. “Re: CAPS Presentation” Message to the author. 2 Feb. 2016. E-mail.


Student Voice: Abram

Student Voice: Abram

April 12th 2016, Written by Nathan Robertson and Abram

When talking to skeptics of personalized learning, a common argument I hear is, “Well, the students don’t care. Why put in the effort when they won’t put in the effort?”

For those who hold to that argument, Abram disagrees with you.

We are constantly getting feedback from students after working with them. They feel empowered to make changes in their schools and to advocate for themselves. Abram decided to put his thoughts about his Indigo Report and education down on pen and paper. It’s a powerful example of what students can do when you give them an opportunity to speak. Student voice, student choice.

I’ll let Abram take it from here.

Hello my name is Abram and I am a sophomore at New Technology High School;. My definition of being successful in life varies from the social norm of simply getting rich and owning a lot of things, my definition of being successful is being happy and feeling fulfilled with you life. The Merriam-Webster secondary definition of success is the attainment of wealth and favor this definition is entirely subjective. Now what is my interpretation of this? My interpretation is that we value materials over personal relationships.  In a paper by Bill Mckibben he concludes that as our houses get bigger, our personal relationships become fewer. This is disturbing to me, how can we be so lonely but still want more? My question for the world is what’s the point of all of your hard work if you just want to spend it all on yourself. In The United States alone 53,000,000 million people face hunger, a large portion of this number being children.

I’m lucky to go to a new tech school because I can express myself more than kids at others. This is a hard fact to come to terms with since I don’t think I express myself and show my full potential. However I find it harder and harder to be truly happy and fulfilled with what I do as a student, as the “challenges” we are presented do not work our minds but simply require a google search or a calculator. Guidelines are getting stricter, lessening my ability to express myself through school. In one instance my teachers did this really neat simulation of what a school in the industrial revolution would be like, they referred to us by numbers and wore old timey clothing, and it was really interesting for me, but my classmate sitting next to me became angry as the figures of authority became stronger. This was an eye opener for me because it showed how it wasn’t just the older generation that prefered standard types of learning and routine. 

What I would like to see in education is small groups of equally talented individuals given a real world problem to solve by a teacher and solving it. My school has given us a few of these real world projects and in my school’s environmental studies class that I TA for they are doing exactly this, they planted oak trees at Skyline Park and helped with taking out invasive species of plants at the Oxbow flood overflow.  To add to the first part of that, I find that my teachers seem to disperse the more motivated students among the less motivated to take the brunt of the work from them. This is unfair to the more motivated, as it hinders them with what should be others responsibility. My favorite project I worked on was during my Freshman year. The project was to present a solution to a real world problem to our class. This was really interesting because we had to learn from others solutions and research, instead of just teaching about something that was already known about. For the final we presented a model of an easily constructible home for refugees. 

As you can see from my report I am not motivated by traditions. I do respect them but I disagree with many that have lost their relevance. For example the division of labour between men and women was useful when we were dropping like flies to disease and conflict, but in our modern world basic survival is not a thing that we need to worry so much about. The discrimination of women in the working world is unacceptable. One of my least favorite phrases is “It’s always been done this way” this saying drags us as a society down because it provides no other reason than it was relevant to people before me. Times change rapidly and relevant information of the past becomes quickly irrelevant. In my opinion this is not a basis to make a decision. I do realize how helpful it is to base our decisions off of prior knowledge but their is a difference in relevant and irrelevant prior knowledge.

Thank you for listening.


Scroll to Top