Education majors help boost BVU enrollment

Friday, September 10, 2021

Fifteen education majors came to Buena Vista University in Storm Lake in August of 2020 to begin their educational journey, intent on becoming teachers.

This year, 33 education majors have reported to campus to start their trek, an increase of 120 percent, representing the continuation of an upward trajectory for a university that enjoys a long history of turning out classroom leaders across Iowa and the rest of the country.

“We have 108 education majors on campus in Storm Lake this year,” says Dr. Brittany Garling, Dean of the BVU School of Education. “We have 337 education majors taking classes through BVU’s online partnerships with community colleges across Iowa. We’re doing all we can to help address a shortage of educators in the region.”

During the past academic year, Garling helped advise 57 BVU student-teachers, 56 of whom had secured teaching positions this summer. One education major chose to attend graduate school this fall. Several new teachers had multiple job offers to consider.

“As a dean, I work with my colleagues to identify, adapt, and modify instruction to keep up to or ahead of trends in education,” says Garling, who began her BVU career in 2013. “We meet multiple times each year with current superintendents, principals, BVU alumni in education, and advisors who provide feedback on what we’re doing well and what we might improve upon. We had 60 participants in three meetings this spring alone.”

An outgrowth of those discussions was a summer school program in the Storm Lake Community School District in which nearly two dozen BVU education majors (and four social work majors) served as instructors and facilitators for children bridging educational and social gaps created by the COVID-19 school closure in 2020.

Storm Lake’s dual-language program, starting its second year, also has direct ties to BVU as Brian Gomez, a 2017 BVU graduate now working toward a BVU master’s in education, served as a kindergarten teacher for the first students enrolled in the program. The effort follows a dual-language program established two years ago in the Denison-Schleswig Community School District by BVU alum Vanessa Sanchez. Both Sanchez and Gomez were taught and advised by Garling.

Dual-language curricula represent a sweet spot for Garling, who relocated to Storm Lake after five years as a high school Spanish teacher. Buena Vista County represented a place where she could grow her English Language Learner endorsement.

“Storm Lake is one of those unique cities in Iowa where diversity is considered part of the culture of the town,” says Garling, a native of Wilton who played softball at Wartburg College while studying Spanish and secondary education. “This is a place where I could use my endorsement. I moved here not knowing anyone and I loved it. Diversity brings bonuses people don’t consider.”

Storm Lake’s enrollment continues to boom, fueling the need for more teachers and classrooms as a new building for primary education opens for instruction in January. Enrollment in nearby districts climbs as well. In Alta, where the children of Garling and her husband, Shane Garling, attend elementary school, minorities comprise up to half of the student body in select grades.

Beyond advising students, communicating with area education leaders, and remaining on the cusp of technologies and methodologies in her field, Garling remains this first and foremost this: A teacher.

“I didn’t want to give up teaching when I became Dean of the School of Education,” she says. “So, I am fortunate to be able to continue to teach three classes in my endorsement area, deepening my connection with students and staying current when it comes to the challenges and rewards they’ll experience in their classrooms.”