“Give love.” These two words have come to life throughout the Waukee Community School District (WCSD) as our staff, students and families navigate this ever-changing and uncertain world. The current year has been full of challenges and uncertainties, but it’s also been full of kindness, connection and intentional care for one another.
The district’s commitment to “give love” continues to be foundational in the way our community members support each other and help each other stay connected, especially in a virtual learning environment. From teachers, to those who work in nutrition and technology, to students and families—there are countless examples of individuals and groups showing up with love, innovation and generosity to make our district a place where people come first.
Teachers like Mrs. Killam (Health, Waukee High School), Mrs. Eikenberry (First Grade, Radiant Elementary), and Mr. Wright (Engineering, Waukee APEX) are thinking outside the box to increase engagement and keep students connected—and they are just a few of many coming up with ways to foster connection.
“Connection is so important. We all need that, and it’s something [students] are not getting right now,” Mrs. Killam shared when talking about different ways she’s helping to facilitate connection within her Health 2 class at Waukee High School. Whether it’s five minutes playing an online game together or just chatting at the start of class, Mrs. Killam is carving out time for students to socialize and connect.
The class recently discussed empathy as part of their unit on mental health and completed an exercise in which students designed a shoe reflecting their own life story. Without assigning their name to the design, they listed different situations, events, hobbies or descriptive words about their personal journey thus far. The assignment was to spend a few moments “walking in the shoes” of their peers to connect with their stories. What a valuable way to foster connection and promote kindness, even within our virtual world.
Mrs. Eikenberry at Radiant Elementary recognizes the importance of connecting with her students, and part of that is getting to see one another’s faces. She loves it when her first graders log in every morning. “Their faces and their smiles make it all worth it, and make it easier to step into a day of learning,” she said. Along with many other teachers throughout the district, Mrs. Eikenberry is coming up with new ways to provide an authentic learning experience for all of her students during this time. Whether that’s reading groups, math activities, or playing a short game, the learning and connection go hand-in-hand.
An important part of the Waukee APEX program includes connection with peers, instructors and business partners. In a virtual environment, some of the opportunities to connect have not been there in the same way. Waukee APEX instructor Mr. Wright discovered from his students that they were missing these connections with their peers.
“One of my biggest concerns for our students during online learning is disconnectedness and loneliness,” he explained. “While I was checking in on my aspiring professionals, a few of them mentioned they missed the unstructured time meeting with individuals from other APEX sectors. That conversation became a catalyst for the idea of a Virtual APEX Triangle that associates from any APEX team could join.” This virtual meeting takes place during the lunch hour on Wednesdays and is an opportunity for students and instructors to socialize, play an online game or just eat lunch together virtually.
Just as connection is essential for our students, it’s just as essential for our community and staff. The families of Grant Reagan Elementary recognized how important it is to make sure the teachers feel valued and appreciated by the community. Many of the students and parents put together signs and letters for the teachers and posted them on the windows and doors around the school building—a small but meaningful way to bring about connection between families and the school staff.
Finding ways to stay connected in this virtual learning environment is something we can do to practice kindness and give love—for ourselves and others. The staff, students and families of WCSD have continued to show up for one another and do just that.
Putting the “Give” in “Give Love”
In the same spirit of kindness and connection, several departments throughout WCSD are going above and beyond the call of duty to meet the needs of students and families within our district.
Our nutrition staff has shown up with a smile to prepare and distribute hundreds of meals each day to families within our district. The Grab and Go meals have been available for students and families since last spring when the district initially moved to online learning, and over 185,000 total meals have been distributed across the district since the start of the school year.
We cannot talk about generosity without mentioning our incredible Information Technology department. The countless hours spent connecting students and families with the proper devices and offering technology support during online learning have been essential to our success. The IT staff members have generously gone above and beyond to offer resources and support to our teaching staff, students and families throughout the district. We would not have been able to successfully transition to virtual learning without all of their hard work and support.
At WCSD, we are so fortunate to have staff that puts students and families first, and consistently goes the extra mile to put the “give” in “give love.” We would not be the district we are without each and every one of them.