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Estherville CAN brings kindergarteners to Iowa Lakes

March 30, 2017

The message behind Estherville Lincoln Central kindergarteners’ visit to Iowa Lakes Community College Tuesday was easy to see. It was written right on the new T-shirts they scrambled into as soon as they arrived for a morning of animals, music and fun: “Future college student.”

“Research has shown that these type of experiences lead to better grades, greater graduation rates, and long-term career success,” said Melissa Walthart, Estherville Career Access Network project advisor, who grew up in Estherville and graduated from ELC.

Estherville CAN is a partnership of local organizations dedicated to ensuring students get additional training after high school, whether it’s vocational training, a 2-year degree or a 4-year degree. The group supports existing programs and helps expand their services or increase participation in those services.

“The state of Iowa has projected that 70 percent of its workforce will require postsecondary education credentials by 2025,” Walthart said. And, she added, jobs that require only a high school degree pay less and many of them are being replaced by new technology.

Estherville CAN, coordinated by Laura Hoffman, is partially funded through a grant from the Iowa College Student Aid Commission and the College Access Challenge Grant, a program of the U.S. Department of Education administered by Iowa College Aid. Local organizations contribute matching funds, including funds from the Estherville Chamber of Commerce Excel! Estherville grant program. 

“Some of our targets include removing barriers such as transportation, language, and affordability that keep students and their families from accessing educational resources,” Walthart said.

Then there’s the perceived barriers. Getting people to see themselves with more than a high school degree means catching them young, long before they’re in high school and maybe even before first grade.

Kindergarteners crowd around a frog in a container, and learn about a variety of animals in associate professor Brian Bristow’s biology classroom at Iowa Lakes Community College’s Estherville campus.

Looking to the future

Arielle Olson and Lacy Kilgore’s classes took their field trip to Iowa Lakes Tuesday, March 21, followed by Emily Prilipp and Phoebe Hersom’s classes Tuesday, March 28.

They gasped in fascinated horror as associate professor Brian Bristow showed them a microscopic view of tiny worms devouring mashed potatoes, and cautiously inched forward to meet Mr. Noshoulders, the friendly ball python. They asked questions about baby mice born only the day before. One student correctly noted that the speckled salamander paddling in its Tupperware container wasn’t a lizard. 

“They ask a lot more questions than college students,” Bristow said of his little pupils, who “changed topics about every 45 seconds, sometimes as my choice, most often theirs.”

Bristow hopes the kids learn that biology is “super cool.”

In the music room, Iowa Lakes student Lincoln Larsen led the kindergarteners through a version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It!” using color-coded melody bells. Using the simple idea of having them ring their bells whenever the right color flashed on the screen, the kids were able to play the chords in harmony with the music.

“Music is for everyone. Music is fun. Music is educational,” said Carol Ayres, professor of instrumental music/jazz band, of what she wanted the children to take away from the experience. Ayres also praised Larsen’s work with the kids.

Larsen was one of multiple Iowa Lakes students who helped make the event possible; others greeted arriving kindergarteners and several helped keep a watchful eye on the children’s interactions with Bristow’s menagerie, to make sure animals didn’t get pinched or pulled too hard and children didn’t put their fingers too close to any finger-nibbling creatures.

“They were just really wowed by the animals and creatures,” said Vivian Dye, a member of Volunteers in Service to America with Estherville CAN, who coordinated the many groups involved in making the visit to Iowa Lakes possible. That included RSVP Northwest Iowa and the Estherville Area Retired School Personnel Association, both of which brought senior volunteers to help supervise the little ones, plus Iowa Lakes staff and Buena Vista University Financial Specialist Jayne Berends. 

“(Kindergarteners) really love being out of their environment and being in a new environment,” Dye added.

Their third activity of the day had a take-home component—students stuffed a tiny pouch with a seed and some water beads, which will release moisture and allow the seed to germinate. Then kindergarteners can plant them to see what they can grow. That activity was the contribution of the Northwest Iowa STEM of the Governors STEM Advisory Council, which fosters science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in the area.

And at the end of the morning, the kids got snacks and met Iowa Lakes mascot Captain Jack, a burly, bearded sailor who isn’t too tough to give high-fives to his little fans.

“We’re trying to create an environment that is workforce and educational-based,” Dye said, adding that she hopes the event will become an annual one.

A kindergarten student from Estherville Lincoln Central holds a shell to his ear during a visit to Iowa Lakes Community College’s Estherville campus.

For More Information:

Vivian Dye at 712-362-8360

For additional questions or more pictures, contact Iowa Lakes marketing office at 712-362-7944

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