Wait! Where did summer go?
If you are anything like me, you have yet to get the painting done that you had planned or get that pledged fitness regime off the ground. Somehow, I seem to have only one forearm and half of one lower leg tanned.
But like it or not, summer days are numbered. It gets dark a bit earlier every night, and football practice is underway. Eager parents and reluctant scholars pack the aisles of the discount stores, stocking backpacks.
As a new school year draws near in Storm Lake, maybe it's a good time to take a step back and appreciate all we have here.
In a rural city of perhaps 11,000, we have both public and a full K-12 parochial school system. We have a respected and innovative four-year university, and a community college campus. We have one of the state's first charter schools for dual prep and collegiate credits. We have a full array of programs for our youngest learners, such as Begindergarten, Be 4 Kindergarten, Early Childhood Preschool and Head Start. We have vocational, language and citizenship programs for adult learners. We even have a sailing academy and art classes through our local gallery.
That's a lot. That's more than a lot, in fact - it's amazing. How many places our size could rival this?
People like to call Storm Lake a meatpacking town, and indeed we are a blue-collar community where people work for a living. But we're also a city of learning, perhaps above all else - where it is possible to receive a fine education from age 3 through graduate school without leaving the city limits, if a person were so inclined.
We take our lumps at times in standardized testing, and outsiders like to point this out too. But what statistics do not report is that we are, in my book at least, Iowa's most welcoming community. We have people of all ethnicities and backgrounds finding a life together here, they share classrooms without barriers or discrimination. Sometimes these incoming students have not had all the opportunities in their past. It takes time, sometimes, to catch up on language and culture. But when they do, the success stories have been spectacular.
I read where Iowa teachers are attending a workshop in how to be welcoming in classrooms with diversity. I had to chuckle to myself - we call that workshop Storm Lake. And we know that our students have an advantage - they've learned to get along with the world long before they have to go out in it.
Standardized tests do not show the incredible work our teachers and professors do to give all students an opportunity for growth and success. I've been in a lot of their classrooms, and I will assure you - there are none better.
We don't need to have the best test stats. We need to have young people who are engaged and inspired, who will continue to be eager learners throughout their lives.
Storm Lake is absolutely blessed when it comes to educational facilities, too.
The rock star of the moment is the new auditorium opening this fall. It's an absolutely gorgeous facility and we should all be excited and proud to see it complete. It says good things for our district that we are as thrilled to provide for performing arts as we are for sports.
The bigger picture, though, is that Storm Lake has achieved something rather incredible.
In a rather short span of history, we have made over our entire public school facilities - built a middle school and elementary to modern standards to replace old buildings, completely renovated the high school, and built a new auditorium and gym. It has all been done without bankrupting the district or putting a huge burden on local taxpayers.
Let's not let that moment escape without notice.
We never give enough credit to the people who serve on our school boards, who give so much of their time and take on so much responsibility. Their only pay is the satisfaction of giving something back to their communities and their children. They deserve to be proud of what has been created here.
None of this could have been achieved without superintendents, principals, staffs and community support groups, and the voting public with vision and a willingness to invest in the future of our children.
Talk will soon turn to replacement or renovation of the Early Childhood Center, the last piece of the puzzle to modernize our entire school system. Again, we will need vision, creativity and wise spending of our public money to achieve our aims.
The future of education is changing - we may one day no longer be limited by the traditional school day, or school year, or even by classrooms. We will be well positioned now to be fluid and responsive to changing needs.
As great as newer buildings are, they will always only be as good as the teachers in them who ultimately unlock the minds of young learners, and we must invest there too. And you can spend millions on brick and mortar, but this doesn't replace the need for families to be involved and to instill an excitement for learning. One can't buy the feeling among students that they are welcome, valued, and free to risk trying speech, wrestling or orchestra - whatever sparks something in them.
We have achieved remarkable things in education in Storm Lake. Dedication of the new auditorium next month is the latest and one of the greatest.
It doesn't end here. It's not what you've got, but how you use it.