Northwest AEA success: Iowa TAG conference to help educators with Core

This year, the annual Iowa Talented and Gifted (ITAG) conference is being coordinated by Northwest AEA’s Sue Chartier, educational consultant. The theme this year is, “The CORE Challenge: Building Options and BreakingBarriers.”  This focus will assist both urban and rural gifted teachers to tie their efforts to the Iowa Core. The conference is set for Oct. 18-20 in Des Moines at the Airport Holiday Inn.

Sue said that typically over 600 educators and parents attend the two-day conference, and she expects a good crowd this year, too.

“We have two nationally known keynote presenters this year, including Dr. Jonathon Plucker from the University of Connecticut, and Dr. Tamra Stambaugh from Vanderbilt University,” explained Sue. “We expect attendees will learn how to best promote success by meeting  the academic and social needs of these students, especially teachers in rural areas.”

According to its website, “ITAG promotes advocacy at the state and local level, pre-service and in-service training in gifted education, and parent/community awareness, education and involvement. ITAG is comprised of parents, educators, other professionals, and community leaders who share an interest in the growth and development of gifted and talented individuals in Iowa.”

Some of the other topics that will be covered at the conference are not limited to, but, will include:

  • curriculum differentiation
  • classroom strategies
  • technology for gifted students
  • twice-exceptional/motivation
  • social-emotional needs

Congrats to Sue and the state team for pulling this event together. To learn more, please go to:

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Northwest AEA/family success: Daycare administrator with cerebral palsy encourages others to embrace differences

After listening to Jayne Harrington talk about her varied activities as a busy office manager for a bustling daycare, it’s hard to believe this same determined, passionate and positive woman needs help with some basic daily needs, like tying her shoes. Such is the life of this accomplished 36-year-old. Hers is a life she says she wouldn’t trade for anything.

Jayne was born in 1979 in Ida Grove, the youngest of three children. At nine months of age, she suffered a seizure and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. According to, this condition is a neurological disorder that affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor functioning. Jayne also has a cyst on the left side of her brain that affects the movement of the right side of her body.

Jayne’s parents connected with the Area Education Agency (AEA) after the diagnosis to begin occupational and physical therapy for Jayne. In addition, speech-language pathologists from the AEA helped her with communication skills.

“This was the best help at the time,” said Jayne. “The doctors originally told my parents that I wouldn’t walk or talk and to put me into an institution.”

Jayne’s parents had other plans for her. But the road was not always easy. There was a period of about a dozen years when Jayne had to go to the hospital every day for one hour for therapy.

“I hated it because it was very painful in my joints,” Jayne recalls.

The years of therapy and support from people like Deb Krager at Northwest AEA have helped Jayne and her family realize the dreams they had. With AEA support and the high expectations Jayne’s parents had for her, she began working at KidZone Daycare at the age of 14, graduated from high school and attended Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs where she earned a receptionist certificate.

Jayne chose to return to her hometown after college and continue her work at the daycare, where she has now worked for 22 years and was recently promoted to office manager. She also held a second job for several years at Ida Services, Incorporated, working with people who have special needs.

Jayne has a laser focus of determination to do things people don’t expect her to be able to do.

“I like challenges,” Jayne reflected. “If you tell me I can’t do it, I try harder.”

Jayne’s family was the biggest source of encouragement for her. She says her older brother and sister, along with her parents, treated her just as they would anyone else. They let her struggle when she needed to, but they also assisted her when she needed help. Jayne believes this made her stronger and more determined.

Her message to children with special needs and their parents is this: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help because if you don’t ask, no one else will advocate for you. In addition, don’t be afraid because you are different. Instead, celebrate your uniqueness. And never listen to those around you who are negative.”

And Jayne says to those who don’t live with special needs, “If you see a kid who is different, make them feel part of the group.”

Jayne shares that living with cerebral palsy, and continuing with physical therapy a few times each year for maintenance, is her “normal.” She doesn’t know anything different. Nor would she want to live any other way. She feels she is where she is supposed to be and has set some long-term goals for herself, including public speaking and obtaining a driver’s license.

“It’s ok if you are different. You might like it,” Jayne stated.

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Northwest AEA/Hinton success: Walk to Read

According to Dr. Judy Sweetman, educational consultant at Northwest AEA, Hinton Community School District is finding success with their Phase I initiatives. They implemented a “Walk to Read” program last year after Christmas, worked out some bugs and got it going again  this past fall. They are implementing interventions and progress-monitoring students who were substantially deficient. They group students by area of need during “Walk to Read” with all staff members assisting. In addition, they have an additional 90 minutes of reading time with their own class.

Sweetman is on the district’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) team and provides information about interventions for different reading components. She says that the teachers on her team are “awesome,” and they help each other make the project work.

Walk to Read takes place every morning from 8:30 to 9:10. They call it “Walk to Read” as the students meet with a teacher or para-professional. They gather in small groups within their reading level. Every child in kindergarten through third grade participates. Those needing extra help get it during that time. Those who are at grade-level receive strategies to reinforce their learning. Those who are above grade-level participate in enrichment activities and strategies.

The results are really starting to show in their FAST data. From fall to winter, student scores in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten have significantly increased, and both kindergarten and first grade have over 80 percent of their students at benchmark.

Grade Fall FAST % at benchmark Winter FAST % at benchmark
Age 4 34.21 73.68
Kindergarten 62.76 88.57
First 82.00 82.00

Here’s what some of the Hinton educators have to say about the “Walk to Read” program:

“The smaller group is easier to handle.  I can see a big improvement in their reading.  They can read faster and comprehend more.”
Mr. Thompson, teacher’s assistant, works with 2nd and 3rd grade students with “Read Naturally” and “Walk to Read”

“With smaller groups the students get what they need in a short amount of time.”
Ms Farnik, first grade student teacher, works with the low performing first grade students

“We are doing a better job of meeting the needs of all of the students.  Our group gets phonics, phonemic awareness, sight words and reading fluency each day during Walk to Read.  We rotate groups of 3 or 4 students to three stations/teachers each ‘Walk to Read’ session.”
Mrs. Joanning, first grade teacher, works with the low performing first grade students

“Through Walk to Read, the teachers are collaborating regularly to evaluate student need, our teaching and programs to use.  Each child is getting daily specific lessons and practice based on what they need to progress in literacy.”
Mrs. Law, first grade teacher, works with the low performing first grade students.

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Northwest AEA/family success: Miracles abound in Addy’s young life

Photo and article received from Anne Iversen, mom to Addalyn. Pictured are (left to right) siblings Deacon, Addy, Jordyn and Crayton.

Just a little over five years ago, while living in Wyoming, my husband Cade and I found out that not only were we having twins, but also that I was finally getting my girls! We already had two boys: Deacon, who was three, and Crayton, who was two. Our twins were due in July of 2010.

During a routine ultrasound, our doctor found something that caused some concern, so he referred us to a perinatalogist. After a very long, detailed ultrasound at the perinatalogist’s office, we were informed that Twin A had Hydrocephalus. We were in total shock; we had never heard of Hydrocephalus before! From what the doctors could see, Twin A was going to need a shunt put in shortly after delivery.

Since there is no NICU anywhere close to where we lived in Wyoming, the doctors suggested we plan on delivering somewhere with not only a NICU but also with a pediatric neurosurgeon. We packed up and headed back home to Iowa. My beautiful babies were born on June 21, 2010: Addalyn Drew and Jordyn Rose.

In addition to Addy’s Hydrocephalus, she was also born with a cleft palette. Addalyn’s Hydrocephalus was very closely watched by the doctors and neurosurgeon. Her shunt put in on July 16. I think the worst part was seeing them have to put her on a ventilator before surgery. It was just standard procedure, but still heartbreaking. Exactly one week after surgery, she was discharged from the NICU weighing 5 pounds and 8 ounces. We thought the worst was over.

However, on the morning of August 11, we rushed Addy to Children’s Hospital in Omaha. When we got to the ER, they drew some blood and decided to do a spinal tap to check for infection.  We knew that one of the biggest problems with shunts is infection, but she hadn’t shown any signs of shunt malfunction or infection yet.

After doing the spinal tap, doctors and nurses from the NICU were in the ER rushing her up to the NICU. We really had no idea what was going on other than they assumed she had some type of infection. Once we got upstairs, everything just became a whirlwind. All of the people in the room were running around taking care of Addalyn. We were pushed out of her room so they could make more room for people who were helping her. It was definitely a terrifying moment, as the doctor told us she was extremely sick and that, at this point, the infection was life-threatening.

That first night she had two blood transfusions; started three antibiotics by IV; and, got a breathing tube put in. She was breathing on her own, but was just struggling. The doctors felt that getting her on a ventilator would help her fight the infection easier.

By the second day, we knew that the infection was bacterial, not viral. Most kids are immunized against it, but being so little and having a compromised immune system from surgery, Addalyn’s immune system just wasn’t able to fight it off. We met with her neurosurgeon and he pulled out the tail end of the tube from the shunt that drains to her stomach. This way her excess spinal fluid, which was filled with this bacteria, drained outside of her body instead of into her stomach.

This was supposed to help keep the infection from spreading throughout her entire body. Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. By Friday afternoon, she started having seizures. By that night, she had a partially collapsed lung and needed more help with her breathing. Her breathing was getting worse and her lung secretions were testing positive for bacteria. It seemed like things were only getting worse even though the doctors were telling us that she was in a much better state than when she was admitted.

She was stable, but she was still in critical condition. We spent five weeks and two days at Children’s Hospital in Omaha. Her original shunt was removed; and shortly before she was discharged, a new shunt was put into place.

When she was just over a year, we again went back to Children’s Hospital to have her palette repaired, tubes put into her ears and for an MRI. We saw the results of her MRI when we had an appointment with her neurologist. She had one spot in her brain where it hadn’t developed completely “normal.” Her neurologist thought that at some point in time, this spot didn’t get quite enough oxygen to develop, almost like a stroke. This spot is right where her brain processes vision. He was extremely impressed with how well she could see, and that this spot had not caused any problems with her vision. He said that had this happened to any grown adults, they would be blind. But because it happened at such a very young age, another part of her brain just took over the job of processing vision. He was so impressed with her development and how far she has come!

We received services through the AEA for over two years. Staci Gallup was our teacher and service coordinator. She and Jen Mars, an early childhood nurse, came to our home for the first visit and learned more about Addy’s health and history. Staci then contacted Jen Kaskey, Addy’s physical therapist. Jen and Staci came to our home to team with us regarding Addy’s development; to monitor that she continued to progress in all areas of her development, paying close attention to her gross motor progress; and gave us ideas about how to get her to continue to make progress. They answered any questions that we had, listened, gave suggestions regarding health, speech, sleeping, preschool, and whatever other questions we had. Since we have three other children, including Addy’s twin sister, having the services provided at our home was a life-saver. When Addy turned three, we stopped receiving services. It was not only because she was turning three, but she was no longer in need of the services.

She is now four and a half years old and is a typical preschooler. She attends preschool every day and rides the bus every morning after school. She is a normal, crazy, energy-filled little girl.

I once told her, “Addy you are my little miracle.”  She responded, “I a miracle!”

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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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