• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

North Central enrichment Going batty

Bat house latest project for North Central enrichment program
Students Jonathon Viager and Siohban Stevens assist Park Ranger Justin Lind drilling holes to attach signs to a bat house (photo by Janet Nolte)

CORALVILLE– You might say they’ve gone batty­, but in a good way.
Students at North Central Junior High (NCJH), in North Liberty, recently teamed up with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) at Coralville Lake to give bats roosting in and around the dam complex some new digs. A wildlife conservation project, which began last fall, came to fruition on Friday, July 29, when students, school district staff, and a crew of ACE personnel worked together to erect a bat house near the Turkey Creek disc golf course.
When Dr. Patricia Witinok, a former science teacher at NCJH, learned of the need last summer while volunteering with the Corps, she suggested they do a cooperative project with junior high students.
“The rangers up there told me that they wanted to install some bat houses and they would pay for the materials,” said Witinok, who retired after teaching in the Iowa City school district for 37 years. “Then we needed the work force.”
They found several pairs of hands ready to help at NCJH by tapping into the school’s “study hall plus” or enrichment program, coordinated by Cecilia Roudabush, a Multi-Tier Service Support Coach.
In 2013, the school began to implement the statewide “Response to Intervention” framework designed to support students who need extra help.
“We have a time during our day when students who are struggling, need to make up tests, or want to speak with their teacher­, they have a time when they can do that,” said Roudabush.
But how do students who maintain good grades and stay caught up with their classes spend that time? They are rewarded with opportunities to participate in a host of unique learning experiences.
“Basically if your grades are As, Bs and Cs, and you have no late or missing work, that’s how you get to go to the enrichments,” said Roudabush. “The idea behind the enrichment program is that students can do things that are interesting to them. It could be a totally personal interest and have nothing to do with the school­, like the bat house is.”
Roudabush said students have chosen a range of activities for enrichment during the half-hour, home room period each school day except Thursdays. Some kids made tie-blankets of fleece fabric to donate to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. Some volunteered to help at the North Liberty food pantry. Other kids met to play board games, do robotics and participate in current events challenges, where teams make up questions for competing teams to answer. Some used the time to study with friends (with the extra privilege of having phones on) or go to the gym or go outdoors, weather permitting.
Teachers and staff members who lead the enrichment groups also enjoy the opportunity to share their interests outside the roles they assume in the classrooms. The band teacher taught a coding class, for example, while a language arts teacher organized a drama club.
The program has been in place for two years.
“We’re refining it every time we do it… We try to get input from the kids about things they’d want to do,” said Roudabush. “Like Jon did everything… he did the tie blankets, he did the bat houses, he was in the chess club and board games.”
“The bat house was my favorite,” said Jonathon Viager, who worked on the project with fellow student, Siohban Stevens, both ninth graders at Liberty High this year.
Roudabush said the tie blankets and board games were hugely popular and could accommodate many students. But it was necessary to limit the bat house enrichment to a smaller group of 11 kids, because of the power tools they learned to use.
“There was a grant available to build bat houses for the Corps, and so we jumped on it right away,” said Bruce Loan, the staff member who stepped up to lead the project after hearing about if from Dr. Witinok.
Loan grew up on a farm and worked in construction for 20 years before taking a job at the school as a custodian, three years ago. That made him the ideal teacher for the project.
“They had parent permission for Bruce to teach them how to use the power tools,” said Roudabush. “That’s Bruce’s specialty.”
The first thing Loan did was give students a comprehensive tour of the shop in the industrial tech room.
“He trained them how to use each tool and taught them safety procedures,” she added. “We made sure they were small groups so he could have his eyes on everybody the whole time.”
Loan said he enjoyed teaching students industrial arts skills they wouldn’t otherwise get through the current academic curriculum.
“When I was in school, we had shop and welding and stuff like that,” he said. He encourages kids to think about the skilled trades as a viable option for future employment. From his perspective, college is not the only way to get a good job.
“You can go to a trade school and start out with no debt… I know kids who get out of school and are welders,” said Loan. “And you know, they make $80 an hour, if you’re a good welder… Somebody has to build these buildings.”
In fact, Loan remembers working as a mason, building the very school he now works in. Teaching kids how to build bat houses, as a fun project, goes above and beyond his regular duties.
“It’s kind of unique because (students) don’t get a chance to do this in school. I like to teach the kids different trades,” said Loan.
“Like how to use a brush,” Siobhan Stevens interjected.
“Yep, how to paint,” Loan acknowledged.
“If you try to paint a fence, it’s not easy if you don’t know what you’re doing,” added Viager.
“Bruce came in on his own time to work with the kids,” said Roudabush. “We couldn’t have done it without him. He built one whole bat house before we started because he wanted to test the plans.”
“When I first started, I thought this won’t take too long,” said Loan. “It took longer than I thought. But that was fine, we got it done.”
“He has offered his time during home room and he’s come in on Saturdays,” noted Witinok. “And they built five unbelievable bat houses.”
Because home room is only 30 minutes, the sessions on Saturdays and during the winter and school breaks allowed Loan and the students to work uninterrupted for a longer stretch of time.
“Since there were no classes those days, we could work on it a few hours and get a lot of stuff done,” said Viager.
“We could have spent all year making these. Or take a Saturday, work two hours instead of a half hour, make a mess and get it done,” said Loan. “We got a lot done… It was fun.”
Witinok was pleased and excited that, in building the bat houses, students got the chance to collaborate with individuals outside the classroom on something that serves the broader community.
“Service learning is about community,” she said. “And you have to build the community.”
Roudabush agreed, “This has been a really nice community connection between the Army Corps of Engineers and North Central.”
“It was a great partnership,” said Justin Lind, the Park Ranger at ACE who coordinated the bat house project with Loan.
“The students learned carpentry skills and also about wildlife management at the same time, which is a great combination,” said Lind. “One of the Corps slogans is ‘building strong.’”
“The majority of our employees are plumbers, carpenters and heavy equipment operators. We need people who can do that for the future to continue our mission,” he added.
Lind expressed appreciation for the tangible work of the students’ project.
“There’s a lot of diseases going around in bat populations throughout the country. Bat populations are decreasing fast,” he explained. “Building bat houses like this is recommended by a lot of federal agencies to kind of boost those numbers back up.”
Loan already has a list of projects he would like to work on with kids in the next year.
“This year, we are going to fix up an old chair. And a scooter­ we’re going to tear it apart and see what makes it tick,” said Loan. “And I’m going to get a car motor from a guy. He’s got a four-cylinder motor. We’re going to tear it apart and see what makes it tick. I’d like to do a lawnmower, too, maybe. We’ll see.”