Findley Elementary “Adopted” as College Prep School
Findley Elementary School isn’t steeped in tradition (yet). It’s anything but stodgy and far from New England. The walls aren’t covered with ivy and most of the students are the first generation of their families to attend there. But make no mistake: Findley’s a prep school.
First thing every morning each class chants out the year they’ll graduate – from college (there’s one emerging tradition right there). Students have college savings accounts established in their names thanks to Findley’s Dreamer Academy, a pet project of the I Have a Dream Foundation. Hallway bulletin boards feature photos of kids; make that “scholars,” in caps and gowns.
Every day the Findley scholars bathe in expectations, positivity and confidence. And yesterday after school another layer of anticipation was added at the school’s open house.
Open houses are standard events at the beginning of new school years. But this one was anything but standard. Besides the usual chance for families to come in and see classrooms and meet teachers this was an occasion to debut the new and ongoing partnerships between each grade level at Findley and an Iowa college or university. Before this year is over every Findley scholar will have gone on a campus visit. Think of it – you’re a 4th grader and your field trip is a daylong excursion via chartered bus (i.e., “deluxe motor coach”) to the University of Iowa!
Grades 1-5 have been “adopted” as follows:
- 1 – Drake University
- 2 – DMACC
- 3 – Central College
- 4 – University of Iowa
- 5 – Grandview University
And as of yesterday the kindergartners are teamed up with the Missouri Valley Line Workers, a skilled trade union with membership in seven states, including local #55 in Indianola. Those are the workers who build transmission projects, a vital industry that’s booming. This happens to be a “golden age of transmission construction,” according to some analysts. And lest you think Findley’s Dreamer Academy Director Heather Isaacson tapped a trade union for kindergarten because she ran out of willing collegiate partners, now hear this:
“Colleges and universities were lined up to get in on this,” Isaacson said. “I deliberately sought out a skilled trade union because we want to make the point to our kids and families that all types of post-secondary education and training are important and necessary. There are high-paying, growing fields that will have more openings than qualified applicants without long range planning. We’re really excited that MVLW took a good look at that big picture and joined us.”
Findley took on the distinct look and feel of a college fair after dismissal on Thursday.
The DMACC Bear prowled the hallways offering high-fives that multiplied into the thousands. A gigantic, red, foam finger with a face inside pointed the way into 3rd grade classrooms where desks were adorned with beads, pencils, temporary tattoos and other Central swag. Admissions reps from the school had been hard at work like table-setters before a banquet.
Fourth grade teachers Schelsy Smith and Sararae Herrin stood outside their side-by-side rooms practically giddy with excitement. Not only did they have Hawkeye sunglasses and football schedule posters to distribute, there was lots of big news to share, too. Their classes will be doing Skype sessions with the Mini Med School at the U of I as part of their curricular prep for the eventual trip to campus in Iowa City.
The pair have both been at Findley long enough (Smith is in her 10th year at the school; Herrin her 9th) to have sharp before and after perspectives on the turnaround at Findley that’s been at work in recent years powered by a potent combination of federal grants, strong leadership and relentlessly positive attitudes.
“There is a completely different climate here now, “said Smith. “I’ve had 100% attendance weeks in my class and that never used to happen.”
“Our students and their families are seeing the value of education like never before,” Herrin chimed in. “We love our jobs.” Smith nodded and smiled in agreement. What more could you ask for your child than teachers who feel that way about teaching them?
The Findley neighborhood remains plagued by poverty. But at the center of it now is a school with more riches than any bank vault – free for the taking.