Category: View Point

ViewPoint: Let’s work together to support our state’s students

By Sam Miller, Chief Administrator, Central Rivers Area Education Agency
With the school year back in full swing, this is a great time to talk about the importance of parent and community involvement in our local schools. Researchers, educators and policymakers alike have all noted the importance of parent involvement as a key factor in helping students learn at their highest levels.
But what does involvement and support look like? How can you give your child, and your child’s school, the best chance of success? Here are three ways to help:
Open up the lines of communication with your child’s teachers. Make contact early and let them know that you are their partner this year. Be sure to indicate your preferences regarding how you wish to be contacted and explain that you want to hear not just concerns, but also good news, about how your child is performing. If your child is struggling, reach out early and be honest about your concerns. If you are having difficulty helping your child at home with homework or behavior expectations, let that be known as well. Your perspective is critical and sharing information back and forth between home and school can be extremely valuable in problem solving.
Back away from social media and talk directly with teachers and school administrators when you have concerns or something positive to share. Ask any teacher, principal or superintendent today and they will tell you how weary they are from social media posts. In many school districts, well-intentioned parent groups have turned into the first place some parents turn when they have a complaint. Others join in and the story spirals downward due to a lack of factual information and interest in common ground. Sometimes school officials don’t even know what has been written and later get blindsided by a disgruntled group who seem to “know” everything about a situation. Ask yourself whether you would want to be treated the same way and also whether this behavior does anything to really help the situation. I’ve heard countless stories regarding the distraction this has become to the hard work of educating students today.
Recognize the challenges local school districts are facing–especially in our rural areas. I recently saw a map that showed the shifts in population in our state and the projections for the coming decade. Generally, the trend shows Iowans moving closer to four main urban centers and away from our rural areas which means fewer “per pupil” dollars for school districts with declining student enrollment. This creates a secondary problem for many rural school districts which is the difficulty of recruiting and retaining teachers. It’s not uncommon to hear school administrators talk about having only one or two applicants for hard to fill positions or seeing teachers stay for a short time and move on. Combine these two factors with the increasing behavior and mental health needs of many students and you quickly realize why many school districts are feeling stretched. As parents and community members, consider acknowledging these very real challenges and advocating for your school district with legislators and others who can make a difference. Without quality teachers in the classroom and adequate funding, student learning can indeed suffer.
A friend with school-age children recently commented to me that, “raising kids today isn’t easy work given everything happening in society.” Neither is educating them. We’ll all be of greater service to the children of our state when we are on the same team and communicating in healthy ways. Parents and community–we need you!

ViewPoint: ‘Get Your Walk On’ with the Healthiest State Initiative on October 2

By Jami Haberl, Executive Director, Iowa Healthiest State Initiative
We’ve got a big goal this year, Iowans, and we need your help to achieve it. The Healthiest State Annual Walk is celebrating its ninth year. To celebrate, our goal is to have walks registered in all 99 counties across the state with a total of (at least) 900 walks.
Help us reach our goal and take a step in the right direction for your health by walking for 30 minutes on October 2. The Annual Walk is an opportunity for your school, workplace or community group to join thousands of other Iowans in a collective effort to improve the wellness of our state.
The Annual Walk is a great reminder for Iowans to incorporate physical activity, like walking, into their daily routines. Walking is the easiest, most affordable and accessible form of physical activity to improve our health. It increases our cardiovascular health and leads to stronger bones and improved balance.
Walking is also great for our mental health. Exercise releases endorphins which have a positive effect on our mood. Walking can also help reduce stress and anxiety. The next time you are feeling overwhelmed or unfocused – try taking a short walk to clear your mind.
Lastly, we walk together on October 2 to connect with other members of our communities and improve our social health. The Annual Walk is a great way connect with others. Invite a friend, family member or neighbor to walk with you – by walking with them, you will both reap the physical, mental and social benefits.
Want to join us? There may already be a walk planned in your community or you can register your own walk on behalf of a school, workplace, organization or group of individuals. View a map of planned walks or register your own at www.IowaHealthiestState.com/Walk.
Registering a walk is as easy as 1-2-3:
Register! Registration is free and easy. Register early to increase your chances to win prizes and build excitement.
Organize! Your walk can be as simple or spectacular as you’d like it to be! Walk over your lunch break or in the evening time — whenever is most convenient for your group.
Get the word out! The Healthiest State Initiative has free online resources to help make your walk a success, including social media posts and graphics, communication templates, posters and print-your-own stickers!
Join us on October 2 to improve your own physical, mental and social health along with being part of a greater effort to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation. If you do walk with us, please share on social media using #GetYourWalkOn2019. We appreciate your support in helping us reach our goal, one walk at a time.

ViewPoint: A trillion trees?

By Debbie Fluegel, Trees Forever Program Manager
You may have read recently that scientists in Switzerland have determined that in order to battle climate change, we would need to plant 1 trillion trees globally. Is that even feasible? Yes, I think it probably is; however, there has to be some thought and planning that goes into it-not just haphazardly planting trees where there is space. We want to restore our natural ecosystems, not reforest the entire world. In countries that have had massive deforestation, planting millions of trees to reforest those countries is economically, socially and culturally necessary for the country to become sustainable. Just this week it was reported in the national news, Ethiopia had broken a world record and planted 353 million tree seedlings in 12 hours to help farmers get out of poverty, as well as mitigate the effects of drought, flood, soil erosion, land degradation and climate change.
How does this translate to those of us living in the Midwest? In 2019, we aren’t facing deforestation at the same rate as the rain forests; however, initial deforestation happened in the Midwest more than 200 years ago during the time of European settlement. Today we are still losing millions of trees at an alarming rate, due to invasive pests and diseases, city development and land cleared for agricultural purposes. We’re also seeing that many of our communities are becoming a monoculture, being dominated by just a few species. By diversifying the mix of species within our community forests, we will be able to better withstand the next influx of invasive pests and diseases. Currently, there are just over 15.5 million people living in Iowa and Illinois. Imagine if every able bodied person planted one tree or helped one person who wasn’t able to plant a tree? That’s nearly 16 million trees planted in only two states! What would the United States look like if that happened in all 50 states? That’s a huge impact! Again, we aren’t planting trees everywhere we have space, we are planting the “Right Tree in the Right Place,” enhancing existing areas, not replacing our agricultural and urban areas. We are using a diverse mix of species that will help ensure resiliency against yet unknown pest and diseases and a changing climate.
Where do we plant all of these trees and how can you help?
Trees Forever is working with landowners, farmers and communities across Illinois and Iowa to plant native species along rivers and streams, on our farms and around livestock operations, on degraded and highly erodible soils, in parks, along streets, at schools, at churches, and in our yards. Planting trees larger than seedlings and having a maintenance plan in place ensures that trees have a better chance at reaching maturity to provide those numerous environmental benefits. In order to accomplish this endeavor, there has to be funding available at every level: local, state and federal. Talk to your elected officials and let them know how important trees are to you personally and to the environment. Encourage them to support the forestry departments in your state. Join your local tree board or tree committee. If there isn’t one, start one!
Develop a tree ordinance in your community and works towards achieving Tree USA status. Participate in community tree planting events. Make a tax-deductible contribution to Trees Forever, supporting the planting and care of trees. Host a neighborhood planting party. There are many ways we can all work together to accomplish planting a trillion trees.
My favorite quote is from The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” It’s going to take all of us working together to battle climate change and the simplest, most sustainable way is to PLANT A TREE!

ViewPoint: The Iowa Model for Election Security

By Paul Pate, Iowa Secretary of State
Election cybersecurity is a race without a finish line. There are new and constantly evolving threats out there every day from foreign governments, and from bad actors across the globe. We must remain vigilant in protecting our elections. I want you to know that here in Iowa, that is our number one priority.
During the National Association of Secretaries of State’s recent summer conference, some of my bipartisan colleagues mentioned they plan to follow the “Iowa model” for election cybersecurity.
What is the Iowa model? We built partnerships between all 99 county election offices and I.T. professionals at the county and state levels to ensure statewide security. Sturdy technological and human firewalls are vital, and we make sure the counties have the resources and training they need to protect the sanctity of the vote.
I’m proud to report that all 99 counties are receiving at least one cyber-service from the state, and more than 90 are using three or more services. This includes 24/7 monitoring, intrusion detection and malware prevention.
Additionally, our state’s voter registration database, I-Voters, is in a secure, off-site facility with top level security. There are several layers of protections on the system, and a multitude of channels someone must go through to gain access.
You might have recently read that I-Voters will not be replaced before the 2020 elections. Replacing the system is a multi-year, multi-million-dollar project and remains on-schedule. It is not something that can or should be rushed into blindly. We owe it to the voters of Iowa to build the system responsibly with the future of elections and security in mind.
My office receives funding for this project in yearly installments, which will continue to come in over the next few years. In the meantime, we are ensuring the current system has all the necessary upgrades and protections in place.
Two additional protections Iowa has in place are paper ballots and post-election audits. A paper ballot cannot be hacked, and we implemented post-election audits in every county to ensure the vote counts match.
This is a team effort, and I consider the thousands of poll workers, all 99 county auditors, and all our local, state and federal partners part of this team. We are dedicated to protecting your vote. Nothing is more important.

ViewPoint: Stop the Summer Slide

Summer slide is the tendency for students to undo the gains they made during the previous school year, or to not be as prepared for the new, higher-level requirements of their grade level when they return to school in the fall, especially for students who struggle with reading.
While some parents like to give students a break in the summer, it is an important time for students to be engaged in literacy activities, especially if they already are experiencing difficulties with reading. Keeping up a reading routine in a season packed with diversions, helping children see the importance of reading, and making it be something exciting to do in the summer can be a challenge. The following ideas can help to make reading fun and fit this important activity into a busy summer schedule.
Set aside time to read each day. Reading high-quality books that are just right, not too hard and not too easy, for just 20 minutes per day will help students maintain their reading skills. Help your child find a book series he or she will enjoy, which could include graphic novels or comics. These are much more visual, but still provide a good reading opportunity for children. Incorporate reading into your everyday activities. Reading is all around us, and daily routines provide great reading opportunities. Take advantage of the opportunities that pop up during your child’s day, no matter how small, like reading a recipe or reading about some place you are going to visit. Read aloud to your child. Reading aloud benefits all students, especially those who struggle. You can read books that your child can’t, which builds listening comprehension. Take advantage of your local library. Libraries often run summer reading programs that motivate children to read over the summer. These programs are educational and provide fun enrichment activities throughout the summer and they’re free.
Get your child involved in the summer reading program available through Central Rivers Area Education Agency (CRAEA). CRAEA provides an online resource which a collection of fiction and nonfiction titles for K-12 students to encourage students to keep reading all summer long with ebooks available through MackinVIA library. There are easy to use websites containing e-books and activities that will keep children reading in the summer. (http://centralriversaea.iwanttoread.org/elem or http://centralriversaea.iwanttoread.org/sec)
MackinVIA is an eBook resource that contains a collection of fiction and nonfiction titles for K-12 students. The collection has hundreds of titles and crosses all content areas. Questions regarding the Summer Reading Website or MackinVIA, may be directed to Central Rivers AEA Librarians, Cheryl Roberson (croberson@centralriversaea.org) or Cari Teske (cteske@centralriversaea.org) You may also contact your building/district teacher librarian for more information regarding your MackinVIA login.
Reading is an essential building block for success in all aspects of life. Plan now to prevent the summer slide!
Kim Swartz is the Director of Instruction for Central Rivers Area Education Agency (CRAEA). She can be reached at kswartz@centralriversaea.org. CRAEA serves over 65,000 students in 18 counties of Iowa.

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