Branstad visits Rogers University, lauds effort

Tuesday morning, Gov. Terry Branstad toured what many involved in third-grade reading initiative have called the cornerstone of the program -Rogers University.

During his visit, Branstad visited several classrooms, witnessing the program in action as he spoke with students and representatives from the Marshalltown Community School District, Mid-Iowa Community Action and the steering committee for grade level reading.

“My mother always said ‘get a good education because they can’t take that away from you,'” Branstad said.

Rogers University does just that, Branstad said. Now in its third year, Rogers University offers its students a chance to climb from poverty and create opportunities for themselves. Often, poverty is used as an excuse to fail when it should be viewed as a hurdle to overcome, he said.

One of the main reasons MICA chose to target the school was because of its high incidence of free and reduced lunch, a strong indicator of families living in poverty, said Arlene McAtee, executive director of MICA. But knowing how to address the issue of poverty isn’t always easy. She said enabling children to learn is the best way to combat poverty, and Rogers University achieves that by allowing its students opportunities they would otherwise not have.

“It’s like a 1,000-headed monster,” McAtee said. “It’s not about aspirations; it’s about access.”

The tour took the governor and others, including Marshalltown Community School District Superintendent Marvin Wade and Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, to the gym where kids learned about fishing and to a classroom where students learned the importance of vegetables in a diet.

Branstad applauded these aspects of the program, saying they helped kids take ownership of their health early in life. Such attitudes go a long way to helping the state reach its goal of becoming the healthiest state in the country, he said.

Carol Hibbs, executive director of the YMCA-YWCA, said children often bring the message of healthful eating to their parents.

Mick Jurgensen, principal at Rogers Elementary, said children having majors helps individualize the learning plans, something else Branstad said helps kids learn more effectively. With the expansion of the program to serve grades four, five and six, Jurgensen said kids are more excited than ever.

Janet Kloberdanz, an instructor at Rogers University, said the culture keeps her coming back year after year.

That culture, Jurgensen said, prepares kids for a college atmosphere. Rogers University staff call themselves “professors” and their students “scholars.” For the first time, when he asks students what they want to be when they grow up, they reply with things such as “a scientist.”

The governor said Rogers University plays into the state’s Science Technology Engineering and Math initiative. Evidence-based, data-driven education is necessary to enable youth for these jobs, he said.

“This is where a lot of good jobs of the future are – in the STEM field,” Branstad said. “This is a field where they can make a good living.”

Wade agreed, saying education needs to be flexible but still have learning benchmarks.

The governor said programs such as Rogers University and Spread the Words-Read by Third exemplify how the public sector can work with nonprofits and the private sector to great success.

McAtee said support for such programs has been almost overwhelming. When asked to help, no one ever says “no,” she said. She said such programs are “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Branstad said such collaboration is critically important to the success of such initiatives.

“The school is not on its own in these things,” he said.