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Iowa BIG surprised with $1 million gift

Money to help expand experimental high school program

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Educators and students in Iowa BIG had already been told they weren’t one of the $10 million prize winners in the education innovation contest, so they kept their expectations low when they were invited to join the XQ: Super School Project’s live announcement Wednesday afternoon via live-feed.

The $10 million prizes went to 10 schools selected by the XQ Institute, an organization focused on creating new learning opportunities in the U.S.

“Some of us thought it was just going to be free ice cream from McDonald’s,” Iowa BIG teacher Shawn Cornally said. “Some of us thought maybe $100,000. So when they said $1 million, we were on a live feed to D.C., and the students basically started crying.”

Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’ widow, was on the other end of the feed, watching as students’ jaws dropped and teachers gasped as they learned their program would receive a $1 million grant from the institute.

“It feels like Christmas,” Powell Jobs said.

Cedar Rapids Associate Superintendent Trace Pickering said the money goes a long way in bolstering Iowa BIG, which lets students from several area school districts earn school credit by working on community based projects.

”At the core, we want to be able to offer it to more students and more diverse students,” Pickering said. “We want to expand our program and to find more ways to continue to make sure any student that wants this opportunity has access to it.”

Iowa BIG, which is sponsored by The Gazette Company, is to receive the $1 million over the next five years.

“Iowa BIG is a weird experiment, and it adds a lot to kids’ resumes and to the stories of their lives,” Cornally said. “ ... We’re passionate about this, but our district is really hamstrung by funding. A million free dollars goes ... a long way.”

The Super Schools Project was launched a year ago in an effort to reward efforts to “re-imagine American public high schools.” It included a cross-country road trip that stopped in Cedar Rapids in June.

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