CEDAR RAPIDS — While most of her classmates take social studies or math on weekday mornings, Miya Stahle spends 45 minutes each day working on something different.
Stahle, a Roosevelt Middle School eighth-grader, is one of seven students creating a student-run, online radio station this year — a project they hope can become a news source for Cedar Rapids students.
“We wanted to create a radio station that’s safe for students to listen to but also presents the news in a comprehensive format,” Stahle said.
Stahle and her classmates are part of their school’s Roosevelt Option program, a project-based curriculum started this fall that includes about 15 percent of the school’s students.
In the place of some traditional classes, Roosevelt Option students spend a few hours a day either working on projects they have chosen or completing online lessons that help fulfill the Common Core standards.
For Stahle’s group this month, that means raising money for the radio station project, which they estimate will cost $18,000. With the help of teachers Jessica Vasquez and Lindsay Micek, Stahle said, they have talked to the local radio station KZIA about providing technical support and asked Rockwell Collins for financial support. (The company pledged $100.)
The group also is in the process of applying for equipment grants from Panasonic, Stahle said.
They hope to have the station up and running by Jan. 1, group member Quinn Colwell said. Once that happens, group members said, they’ll provide another option for students who often listen to music during school hours and news in a student-friendly format.
“Students don’t always understand what adults are talking about on the news,” group member Olivia Vander Sanden said.
That might not be a problem, however, for these seven.
“The fact is that they’re really stepping up and becoming a lot more articulate than they were before,” Vasquez said. “Having a daughter that went to this school, it would have been nice if they had something like this for (her). I think it really lets the good kids shine.”
That fits one of the goals of the Roosevelt Option program, Roosevelt principal Autumn Pino said.
“When a project speaks to a student’s heart, we try to do everything in our power to empower them,” Pino said. “It’s allowing more of these in-depth conversations about what really causes a student to light up.”
Adding the Roosevelt Option program has been difficult for her as an administrator, Pino said, even with only about 85 students enrolled this year.
“It’s not easy to break paradigms,” she said.
But that’s exactly what the Cedar Rapids district hopes to do, said associate superintendent Trace Pickering, with programs like Roosevelt Option and Iowa BIG, the project-based high school curriculum introduced last year. (The Gazette’s parent, The Gazette Company, is a financial sponsor of Iowa BIG.)
With one initial program at each education level — Iowa BIG, Roosevelt Option and the fall 2015 transition of Johnson Elementary School to a magnet school — Pickering said the district wants to “begin moving away from the industrial-age schools” by bringing other schools into the fold in the next few years.
Stahle and her classmates have broad plans for the radio station, as well.
“We realize that if we want a lot of people to listen, we can’t just focus on Roosevelt,” she said. “We think of it as a snowball — it’s transformed into something bigger.”