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Schools are doing great things

April 06, 2016

Simply stated, my job rocks! Not only am I surrounded by dedicated professional at the Department of Education, each week I’m privileged to visit schools across Iowa.

One emerging theme is that Iowa educators are increasingly making important connections for their students beyond the classroom walls. They are breaking down traditional barriers between the “real world” and school.

Educators making these connections and preparing their students for the future take a similar approach.

First, they tap both student and teacher interests and skills. The Newell-Fonda Community School District begins the second semester with a two-week Winter Explorium, or “WE-Term,” which allows students to pursue their passions and develop important skills. Most seniors participate in internships while other students engage in project-based learning. A teacher transformed one of the classrooms I visited into an elaborate Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) unit complete with mannequin victims.  Students then used scientific knowledge and theory to track down the perpetrator.

Second, they build connections with the community, including higher education and employers. I participated in the Elementary STEM Festival in the IKM-Manning Community School District in which students engaged in multiple, hands-on lessons prepared by dozens of local businesses. The district sees this as an opportunity to help students develop key employability skills early in life, which will ultimately meet the needs of their community.

Finally, they design rigorous learning experiences. In Wilton, middle and high school students choose a “skinny” period, which runs for 40 minutes at the end of each day. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Bean, who designed a food science course where students learn the science and math behind candy making. The students not only produce candy – which is delicious – they also develop marketing materials and sell their product. They’re tackling challenging academic concepts while simultaneously developing a business.

Schools making these connections don’t all fit the same mold. They are urban, rural and suburban; they are elementary, middle and high schools; and they serve students from low-, middle- and high-income backgrounds.  They develop a clear vision of what engaging, high-quality and relevant learning looks like and they make it happen.

And at the same time, most Iowans will also acknowledge we still have work to do to ensure this is happening each day, in all schools, and in every classroom. That’s why I’m excited about the Governor’s 2016 Future Ready Iowa Summit. The summit, which will take place on April 19 at Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines, will focus on strengthening Iowa’s talent pipeline for the careers of today and tomorrow.

The summit is designed to elevate the conversation about how to ensure students and workers have the career opportunities they deserve and business and industry can hire the skilled workers they need to grow. I’m looking forward to hearing from state, national and international experts as well as students and teachers about their perspectives on this critical issue.

I hope you’ll join me in attending the Governor’s 2016 Future Ready Iowa Summit. I also hope you’ll continue to share and invite me to participate in learning opportunities that prepare our students for a successful future.

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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on October 20, 2021 at 5:03pm.