Beyond the Classroom Walls

Beyond the Walls of the Classroom (1)I had a terrific visit last week at the Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa, referred to by many people as “the STEM School”. Wow, what an awesome place!

This center offers kids so many opportunities that can’t be provided in their home school building, plus they get college credit to boot, at no cost to them (OR their parents)! The credits are directly transferrable to our state universities and Kirkwood Community College. They are also transferrable to private colleges and out of state schools if the student works with Kirkwood and the entrance office at the college they want to attend, to make sure that the courses are coded to meet that particular college’s requirements.

With the large class sizes that we are seeing in our secondary classes in the ICCSD, the elimination of most industrial tech classes, and the funding issues that get in the way of expanding our curriculum, the STEM Center is a great alternative for our juniors and seniors.

The center also has great programming to offer kids that are not planning to go to college, in that they can receive certifications that will enable them to get a higher wage job directly out of high school. According to Jon Weih, the director of the center, what he sees as a very likely possibility is that kids that think they don’t want to go to college, after getting their feet wet at the STEM Center and studying a field that they are really fired up about, may be inspired to pursue a career path they never thought possible.

The school districts are charged $148/credit hour for each student that enrolls in the STEM Center. Given the state of Iowa’s education funding, my obvious next question was, how can Iowa school districts afford that? School districts receive funding through Supplemental Weighted Funding, from the Iowa Department of Education. This is funding that is outside of the “allowable growth” limitation.

The STEM Center is a wonderful example of the kind of collaboration between stake-holders in our community that I would like to see more of. Some of the instructors for the courses are local tradespersons or professionals. How great to have kids connect with a local person actually working in the field they have interest in, bringing a real life lens to the subject matter!

If elected to the board, I will be an enthusiastic advocate for creative programs and partnerships like these. The Iowa City area is blessed with a treasure trove of artists, scientists and innovative thinkers. We need to utilize these community resources to create more inventive curriculum and programming for our kids, from STEM to STEAM and everything in between. Imagine the possibilities for our children if we, as a district, broadened our students’ educational experiences beyond the walls of the traditional classroom!

I hope that we can build upon the success of the STEM school and create more opportunities for our kids to find and follow their passion– inside the classroom and beyond.