Cedar Rapids and Iowa City school teachers and administrators say addressing student needs has to go beyond academics to incorporate a social/personal curriculum, which focuses on individuals who may not be successful in a conventional classroom but might flourish with alternative methods.
Both districts started child-centered or student-centered programs several years ago to reach students who may have “barriers” such as poverty, homelessness, mental issues, low self-esteem, anger issues and lack overall social skills. The public education programs are similar to the social/personal classes taught to inmates at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women and other prisons, which are geared to alter behavior and attitudes before inmates are released.
“It’s better to pay now (in prevention), rather than pay later (prison time),” Joan Vanden Berg, Youth and Family Development Coordinator with Iowa City Community School District, said. “The big problem is that it’s hard to find resources for prevention, which doesn’t make sense. We have to be creative and develop community and business partnerships.”
The two school districts each offer life skills-type programs that target elementary, middle school and high school students, which officials hope will prevent high-risk students from failing.
Among the programs, Iowa City schools will expand its Aggression Replacement Training program. It had been at Southeast Junior High for the last 10 years, but it will be district-wide this year, Vanden Berg said. The district has a partnership with the 6th Judicial District Juvenile Court Services. The program is geared to students who have anger issues or aggressive behavior.
Candace Bennett, juvenile court officer, said some of the students in the class already may have had contact with juvenile court, but the majority of them may have been in trouble for fighting or other discipline problems.
A juvenile court liaison officer has conducted classes in Cedar Rapids schools, but it has not been a regular program every year, Bennett said. Court services is interviewing now for an officer that will conduct the training in the Cedar Rapids district.
Vanden Berg said the district also has a life skills curriculum for grades 6-8, which focuses on social/personal needs, communication skills, making good decision and substance abuse prevention.
Cedar Rapids Community School District started “Doing our PARRT,” which stands for Personal Best, Active Listening, Respect, Responsibility and Trustworthiness, five years ago for pre-K through 8th graders, Paul Hayes, learning support facilitator, said. The curriculum is designed to help students develop those character traits.
“There are 12 lessons taught by the teachers which focus on bullying/harassment, interaction and communication skills, making responsible decisions, respect, solving conflicts and leadership skills,” Hayes said.
Tara Troester, School to Work coordinator with Metro High School in Cedar Rapids, said the Career Connections and Preparing to Graduate courses have been successful.
“Both courses integrate 21st century skills like employability, financial literacy and civic literacy into the curriculum,” she said.
Students also tour local businesses and college programs to find out what they might want to pursue when they graduate. The students learn what the requirements are, expectations and salary and benefits for a particular job or career. They have to come up with a budgeting plan for that job, going from net income to see if they can cover their expenses from food to rent.
The connections class also uses an entrepreneurial focus where students set up their own business, like making candy bars from the molds to the chocolate, Troester said. In the other prep course, speakers provided by Metro North Rotary share their career paths and obstacles they encountered along the way.
Every Metro senior must take one of the courses before they graduate.