Northwest AEA/school success: STEM activities in northwest Iowa making a mark

STEM_7FFAF24FD35F9Jordan Menning, educational consultant at Northwest Area Education Agency (AEA), was one of 19 people across Iowa selected to be on the Governor’s STEM Council Proposal Review Team to select the 2015-16 program winners for the STEM Scale-Up Grants.

According to the Council’s website, the group was formed in July 2011 by Executive Order 74 (and updated in July 2013), the Governor’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Advisory Council is a partnership of business, policy and education leaders from across the state convening to bolster STEM education and innovation and better position Iowa’s young people and the state’s economy for the future. The Council is co-chaired by Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and Vermeer Corporation President and CEO Mary Andringa. The executive director of the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council is Dr. Jeff Weld. The office is headquartered at the University of Northern Iowa.

“I was very honored to be chosen for the Proposal Review Team,” said Menning. “My past experience as a Science teacher and, now, helping lead STEM efforts at Northwest AEA, seems to be a good fit for their team.”

“I’m excited to move into the process and work with others across the state, which will allow more STEM opportunities for kids across Iowa,” Menning added.

Menning says that, locally, STEM is being implemented at many different levels across northwest Iowa. The goal is to get students excited about STEM fields and help prepare students for future careers and opportunities. Some of the skills STEM focuses on are problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration and being innovative. STEM is for all students. Through inquiry learning and solving real world problems, students will be more prepared for the future.

To help achieve these goals and level of education, the Governor’s STEM Council has a Northwest STEM Hub to help support schools, teachers and students. Priorities are vast and include an IT Academy, Scale-Up, festivals and events, evaluation and externships for educators, to name a few.

If you have any questions about STEM activities at Northwest AEA, please contact Jordan Menning at or Jody Still Herbold at

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Northwest AEA/school success: Positive behavior is trending around the AEA

Pictured left to right is ‘Buddy the Blackhawk’ at Hinton Elementary. Buddy illustrates the importance of making school-wide expectations visible to all: Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Prepared. Right are a few West Monona Middle School Students of the Month.

Northwest AEA has been helping local school systems redefine their approach to discipline over the past 10 years.  School Wide Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports, often referred to as SW-PBIS, is a set of evidenced-based practices that, when implemented with fidelity, creates a positive culture and climate in schools and leads to positive behavioral and academic outcomes for students. There are 556 schools implementing SW-PBIS in Iowa and more than 19,000 schools implementing SW-PBIS across the United States. SW-PBIS implementation is found in 16 countries outside the US, as well.

According to Jennifer Collins, PBIS coordinator and SWIS facilitator at Northwest AEA, there are 36 schools in Northwest AEA that are in training or implementing SW-PBIS. Nearly one third of these schools started training in the past two years. Recently, there has been an increase in interest by school districts exploring SW-PBIS implementation. Early in 2014, the federal government allocated $23,625,000 for the School Climate Transformation Grant. Schools could apply for this money and use it to develop, enhance, or expand systems of support for schools implementing an evidence-based multi-tiered behavioral framework. This framework is SW-PBIS.

Schools implementing SW-PBIS in Northwest AEA have demonstrated that their systems can sustain over time.

“After initial training, 82 percent of schools implementing SW-PBIS in Northwest AEA continue to operate with fidelity, demonstrating the sustainability of the framework,” stated Collins. “Staff in these schools consistently report that the systems and practices are maintained and sustained over time. SW-PBIS becomes embedded into the school system and becomes the way that school ‘does business.’”

Schools implementing SW-PBIS have also demonstrated positive behavioral outcomes. The data reflect that schools implementing with integrity have fewer behavioral incidents referred to the office.

“Schools implementing with integrity rarely have students referred to the office—on average, 91 percent of students in schools implementing with integrity have one or fewer office referrals annually,” Collins added.

In a recent survey, schools overwhelmingly report that the work they have done with SW-PBIS has had a positive impact on staff, students and overall school climate. Schools also report that the work they do with SW-PBIS has resulted in more positive behavioral outcomes for students.

“The number of office referrals in three months prior to our start with PBIS was over 200 (2009)! Last year, we had reduced office referrals to 94; and so far this year, (three months into the year), only 33,” said Lorie Nussbaum, Gehlen Elementary Principal, a veteran PBIS School since 2009.

Mary Black, West Monona Elementary Principal, a veteran PBIS School since 2010, adds, “We have students who want to be on CICO so their parents can hear about the good things they are doing at school. Overall, it makes us think about being positive and reinforcing the good behavior.”

Schools implementing SW-PBIS provide a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) for behavior to meet the needs of all students they serve, as shown below.

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Makerspace Movement in Ottumwa

Joni Nicholson, Elementary Teacher-Librarian for Ottumwa Community School District

maker magnetThe Makerspace movement has created a buzz in the library-media community.  Many public libraries have embraced this opportunity to add more hands-on activities to appeal to their patrons.  But in the school setting, teacher-librarians often express many concerns about how to incorporate a Makerspace into their program with so many obstacles.  These obstacles—time, space, and budget—are not new to any of us in school libraries, but they don’t have to be roadblocks that keep you from creating a great “Makerspace” of your own.

Stacy Moran and I, both elementary librarians for the Ottumwa Community School District, teamed together to do  just that.  We were both wanting to implement some form of Makerspace in our libraries, but we were both faced with those same pesky obstacles.  With classroom teachers’ schedules already being very tight, we knew it would be a challenge to find time to add another event into the school day.  In some of the older school buildings where libraries are often confined to a classroom or a converted auditorium stage, space was another issue.  And of course, adding another item to an already meager budget seemed impossible too.  These are not concerns unique to the Ottumwa Community School District.  Most other schools face these same constraints. Continue reading

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Lakeview Elementary Closes the Gap for Students in Special Education

Featured on – Centerville’s Lakeview Elementary has seen tremendous success in closing the Literacy achievement gap for all students, but especially those in special education. “Wdsc_0062hen I think about where we were six years ago when we were first reviewing data in the SINA process and where we are now, I attribute that to support from the AEA and our staff’s willingness to redesign instruction,” says Principal Terri Schofield.

A suggestion from the AEA to include special education students into general classroom instruction and a change in grade-level team structure set the foundation for achievement. “With C4K and MTSS, we began to develop our tiers. Special education students have 90 minutes of reading instruction, Title 1 intervention (students recognized as scoring below FAST benchmark), and specially designed instruction,” she explains, “Teachers have changed teaching to meet the needs of the way kids learn!” Continue reading

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Support through Assistive Technology – from Pal-Pad to Head Switch: Meet Zackary

Ellie Hamilton, Assistive Technology Specialist

img_3257Zackary, a student in the Centerville District, receives homebound special education services* from Great Prairie AEA. The district and AEA work together to serve and support Zachary’s learning. Earlier this year, his IEP team requested that GPAEA’s Assistive Technology Team complete an assessment of his needs. The team, along with Zackary’s family, used the Student Environment Tasks and Tools (SETT) form to prioritize what tools were needed to support him. It was determined that Zackary did not demonstrate a preference for items and was currently using a pal-pad switch to activate switch activities. The goal became for him to demonstrate preferences for items using a variety of assistive technology tools. Continue reading

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This is Eli…

Jennifer Woodley, Communication Specialist

A little over a week ago, I visited Jamie Reifsteck’s first grade classroom in the Fairfield Community School District to participate in an Autism Awareness activity. I was welcomed by a group of smiling faces and blue shirts! “We are all wearing blue today – for Eli!” they told me, “Eli has Autism.”

Eli’s family (mom, dad, and sister) visit the class a couple of times a year to share information, lead awareness activities, and encourage the kids to ask questions about Eli and Autism. “All this is to help build a community around Eli. We don’t want the kids scared or confused, and we want them to be comfortable interacting with Eli anywhere at any time,” explained Eli’s dad and Great Prairie AEA School Improvement Specialist, Mike Stiemsma. “It’s great when they see him at Hy-Vee, they run up and give him a high 5 and say “hi” even if he doesn’t say “hi” back.” Continue reading

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Success for Maddox

Maddox-1st gradeEveryday AEA Speech-Language Pathologists provide consultation and therapy for children who have difficulties with language, voice, articulation, and stuttering. Recently, one Great Prairie AEA staff member received a wonderful note of appreciation from an area parent:

Dear Ms. John,

I’m Maddox’s mom (West Burlington) and I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for all of your work with Maddox these last few months. He loves his time with you and we have seen such incredible progress in such a short amount of time. A couple of weeks ago, he started saying his L’s, and is so consistent and determined! It still catches me off guard to hear them, and they come more and more naturally. Last night, he really caught me off guard when I got home from my studio and he told me he had just taken a “bath”. Last night was the first time in entire life he said “bath” and not “baf”. I made him repeat himself about 5 times, and the rest of the night we kept saying “th” words back and forth to each other. He randomly practices the sounds that you do with him, and I love hearing the pride in his voice as he does it. His J’s sound more like Z’s instead of the D’s they used to sound like, and he is consciously practicing his SH’s, too.

I knowing teaching in any sense can be a thankless job sometimes, and I wanted to make sure you know just how much we appreciate what you are doing for Maddox, and how thankful we are to have you in his life.

Thank you!
Wendi & Travis Riggens-Miller

“It is always great to receive feedback from parents, who can hear the speech behaviors changing in their child,” replied Diane John, GPAEA Speech-Language Pathologist. “Maddox is a joy to work with and be around – children like him, are the reason that I do what I do!”
Learn more about Speech-Language services from Great Prairie AEA at
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