Currently, Iowa BIG is a partnership of the Cedar Rapids Community School District, the College Community School District (Prairie) and the Linn Mar Community School District. Students from these districts pay no tuition, and our teaching staff is employed by these three districts. Currently, a number of students from Mt. Vernon Community School District pay tuition to attend, thus students from surrounding districts can participate in Iowa BIG.
Iowa BIG was created by the community and through the community building effort of The Gazette Company and The Cedar Rapids Community School District. BIG’s core design principles come directly from the partnership of school and community.
The core design principles are:
- Use student passion to drive deep learning and deliver core academic credits
- Engage students in authentic community projects, problems, and opportunities
- Connect students more deeply to the people and resources of their community (Cedar Rapids).
We believe that educational options are necessary for every student to be successful. We must provide students with as many contextually-rich experiences as possible so they not only develop basic skills, but, more importantly, they can competently use those skills to solve real problems and make new things happen.
Designed by The Corridor:
As we built Iowa BIG from these principles, we saw thousands of students whose abilities and interests were either fostered or ignored, depending on how well they fit into the singular logistical model. Most public schools subscribe to and many communities assume that model is the only or best way to educate. Iowa’s Creative Corridor values a plurality of models, as does Iowa BIG.
To reach every student, we would have to create a model that had the exact same goal as our local public schools–a rigorous and applicable education–but achieve that goal through very different means.
As a result, Iowa BIG’s pedagogy centers around the following tenets:
- The student must choose and love the project. Iowa BIG employs a project pool that is custom generated for us by our community. These projects come from the real needs of businesses, non-profits, and government agencies and are translated into “teenager” by our faculty. Students are free to choose projects they are passionate about. Students and faculty also pitch projects into the pool, which are then partnered with our community.
- The project must be interdisciplinary. All projects at Iowa BIG cover material and require understandings of content from multiple traditional courses. This ensures the efficiency of our model and that our projects never become solely “problems from the back of the book.”
- The project must have a participatory 3rd party audience. This is the hardest and most important core value of Iowa BIG and what truly separates our model from other educational systems. If we can’t identify an audience outside of the school’s walls willing to participate, assess, and mentor the project, we don’t do it. This goes beyond having an evening where students show off their work, it goes beyond having a professional Skype in for a class period — our students become fully integrated into solving a need of the community.