I am fortunate to work in a school district that recognizes the power in the Bridges Out of Poverty philosophies. In December, our school hosted a training for all communities in southeast Iowa. Since that training, crazy and incredible things have been happening in our “Bridges journey.”

One of the exciting things for me has been the commitment of our school district to incorporate the Bridges tools and concepts into our school. These ideas have challenged the way our staff thinks about how they engage our under-resourced students, and it is giving us tools that allow us to impact “intentionally” the thinking of those same under-resourced students. In fact, from our continued training in Bridges and through contact with other Bridges communities and partners, we have developed a four-part Bridges initiative right here at West Burlington Jr./Sr. High School. It looks like this:

  1. All seventh-grade students will participate in The R Rules.
  2. Fifteen juniors and seniors are enrolled in West Burlington’s first night class.
    • Semester 1: Investigations into Economic Class in America
    • Semester 2: Developmental Writing
  3. Our under-resourced teens will continue to lead relationship-building professional development with our teachers.
  4. In partnership with Younghouse Family Services, our school will serve as the contact point for families in need.

We are also very excited about our partnership with our local junior college. In meeting with key leaders at Southeastern Community College (SCC), we realized that they were creating an unintentional hurdle with their writing placement test. In essence, if students do not score at a proficient level in writing, they are required to take up to three preparatory writing classes. The idea is right! Let’s better prepare our students, especially our first-generation students, to write successfully in college.

However, two hurdles were being created. First, students still had to pay for the class using their financial aid, and second, the preparatory writing class credits do not count toward graduation. Again, the idea seems to make sense, but some of the fallout only puts first-generation students at a greater risk of not completing college.

The college is working with West Burlington High School to eliminate that hurdle. During the second semester of our night class, we will be teaching our own Developmental Writing class using the information we learned in our Investigations process first semester. Our students will be considered honorary SCC students, will participate in the writing lab on campus, and will be able to use their IDs to get into SCC activities. The college will also test our students at the beginning of the year and at midyear to make sure they will be ready to pass the writing portion of the placement test. As a bonus, our students receive an English elective credit that helps us with credit recovery for a number of our kids.

Recently our school created The Corners Cares. In essence, The Corners, which was once called the “at-risk room,” will serve as a liaison between our parents in need and the many resources in our community for those in need. The idea is to make the school more of a one-stop service to our parents. We hope to create a “resource umbrella” that allows a parent easy access to help and relief instead of having to run from one service provider to another. This seems a logical extension of our school and the role we need to play in our community.

The response from that first training in December has been overwhelming. As a school district we are both honored and humbled to be a part of the Building Bridges initiative in southeast Iowa. We have just begun, and we realize that if our communities in southeast Iowa are going to become sustainable for all, we have a long way to go. However, there are conversations going on that have never happened before, and our first Getting Ahead class will graduate in mid-August. The learning that more than 700 people have received so far from Bridges Out of Poverty has been the catalyst for challenging mindsets and the beginning of bringing all classes to the table in southeast Iowa.

We have begun an incredible Bridges journey.

Vern Reed is a teacher of at-risk youth at The Corners at West Burlington Jr./Sr. High School. He would like to thank everyone involved in the southeast Iowa Bridges initiative for their inspiration and willingness to share knowledge in the Bridges journey.