A handful of educators, parents and policy-makers met in Des Moines on Wednesday for a symposium about the future of K-12 education.
Liz Cox of Prevent Child Abuse Iowa and Laura Wood, who works with schools looking to modernize their teaching spaces, shared their work with attendees.
Cox, who is also a West Des Moines school board member, shared research about adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. A large body of research has correlated higher instances of ACEs — which can be a number of negative experiences including abuse, neglect and household dysfunction — with poor health outcomes in adults.
As children, people experiencing ACEs carry that trauma with them to school. Cox said a movement is percolating here in Iowa to provide children with compassionate, trauma-informed care. Five Cedar Rapids schools are piloting a trauma-informed model this school year.
One major piece of helping people with ACEs avoid negative outcomes in adulthood, Cox said, is giving a child one safe, reliable relationship. Giving support to adults, too, can prevent them from passing down their own traumas.
When Cox told a group of fifth-graders that recently, she said they were shocked.
“Friendship is the solution to child abuse,” she told them. “They couldn’t believe it.”
Connections — and collaboration — are also key to Wood’s work, she said during her presentation about 21st century learning spaces. A growing number of schools in Iowa are becoming more student-centered, she said, and less focused on a classroom teacher.
“Students should be the busiest people in the classroom,” Wood said, whether that means working in groups, drawing diagrams on whiteboards, building structures from scratch or all of the above.
More and more high-tech, adaptable “21st Century classrooms” are popping up in rural schools in southern Iowa, where Wood works, she said.
“It’s connecting with those students that don’t usually have those experiences,” Wood said.
Read more about negating the effects of childhood trauma here: Building resiliency against adverse childhood experiences
Read more about 21st century learning spaces here: Small Iowa school district embraces big changes for collaboration