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Community asked to change education

Community asked to change education

The Charles City High School library wasn’t packed by any means, but the tables immediately in front of Bentlee Birchansky and Aren Buresh each had at least one student. Some kids toward the back on a couch were in there for study hall. Teachers told them to pay attention, they might like this.

For the most part, they seemed to listen, although one kept staring at his laptop but had only one side of his earphones on. Multi-listening. It’s a skill I sometimes claim to have, but it’s not all that effective. The picture of that guy remains in my head as I think about the presentation from the two students pitching Iowa Big. It’s a different way to go about high school that was started in Cedar Rapids not to long ago. The Charles City School District is trying to establish its own version with partner districts New Hampton, Osage and Rockford.

the option to follow your passion,” Birchansky, a senior at Cedar Rapids Washington High School, said.

This message was echoed throughout Monday as IowaBIG representatives met with students and business representatives.

“You feel as if your skills are actually being used for something that matters,” he said.

this is my understanding. Students apply to get into IowaBIG, which has a location outside the involved schools. That location is a hub for students who choose real world projects — initiatives — that they do with the help of community partners. Those are businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, whichever make sense. Teachers at that hub assess what educational standards the students meet in the course of doing the projects, as well as give seminars and advice.

Students take on multiple initiatives. Examples given included working on school remodeling with an architecture firm or working with a newspaper journalist on a blog.

This project-based learning doesn’t overtake all of a student’s schedule, some classtime is dedicated to it, but they return to their “mothership” high school for traditional classes and activities.

location is a wrinkle the Charles City District does not have worked out yet. Troy Miller, director of stategic partnerships with IowaBIG, said it is a must. Putting it in a school building removes authenticity, apparently.

Charles City’s plans are intertwined with three other school districts — New Hampton, Osage and Rockford — which is similar to IowaBIG, which has students from multiple schools as well.

students can pitch initiatives to community partners or they can choose from initiatives pitched by those partners to the program. You get to say no, Birchansky said.

“You are going to do a project that matters to you,” he said.

One IowaBIG student found a passion for aquaponics and his project of cycling water and waste from a tank of fish to a container to grow vegetables has developed into a business. He grows vegetables on site for a market in Cedar Rapids.

how it develops a local workforce, establishes networks for students that make it more likely they will return to their communities. It teaches students professional time management. They don’t sit in a classroom for a block of time waiting for the bell to ring. They use the time they need, when they need it to complete tasks and move on to other tasks that lead to completed “authentic” projects, the representatives said.

school district sent to potential community partners said, “We are excited to begin our conversation about IowaBIG and the opportunities it will bring our students as well as our community.” It’s an interesting conversation to have and it will be interesting to see where it will lead.

I took a look at the Cedar Rapids’ program’s website:, and read blog posts written by Miller and Buresh about the program. It’s an interesting read and I encourage you to take a look. The posts show thinking going beyond the basic concepts talked about at the meetings here that I attended. One that popped out to me was the concept of online PE.

“It’s an example of where students can have their school standards verified by a professional even though the standards are met outside the traditional classroom (or gym),” Miller wrote.

Apps to track exercise are pervasive. So I can see how that could work. I see value in, for example, those kids serious about ballet and dance getting credit for all the hours of work they put in. Could this kind of approach help them find more quality time to follow their passion? Maybe practicing dance over dodgeball?

as all this is happening is wrestling with more cuts in state funding, deserves credit. The community will deserve even more credit if it makes this work for the good of our students.

Contact Managing Editor Chris Baldus at [email protected] com

Chris Baldus

Managing Editor

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