Initially established in 1974 to answer the call to get children with special needs into the least restrictive educational environment possible, Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEA) have expanded their services to include nearly every child from birth to age 21.
Green Hills AEA, located in Creston, serves 17 counties and 39,000 students in public and parochial schools throughout Southwest Iowa. Schools served from Green Hills AEA include Creston Community Schools, CAM, Nodaway Valley, Orient, Corning, Villisca, Bedford and Lenox.
“The school system is responsible for educating the children, but when they need help, we’re the people that help,” said Dr. Lolli Haws, chief administrator for Green Hills AEA. “It’s partially funded – well majority funded through property tax dollars that flow through the district. So, the money is collected by the district and then sent to the AEA.”
Early ACCESS is a program available through Green Hills AEA to families of children from birth to age 3 who may have, or may be at risk of having, a developmental or learning disability. It’s an early intervention program that focuses on helping caregivers and families help children learn the basic skills that typically develop during the first three years of life.
“This is one of the things that – even if you know about a school based service, you may not know about Early ACCESS,” said Angie Hance, Director of Green Hills AEA. “Early ACCESS is what Iowa calls – it’s an intervention program for children ages birth up to age three. The federal law – there is a component that guarantees children with disabilities that are even a month old support and services.”
Caregivers and families work as a team with AEA specialists to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan which describes the specific needs of the child and how AEA, caregivers and family members can help the child meet these milestones.
At any given time, Hance said Green Hills AEA serves between 270 and 280 infants and toddlers. Referral for services can be made by anybody with knowledge of the child, such as a parent, grandparent or doctor, and can be made as early as one week after birth or as late as two years seven months.
“Some kids are in our program for close to three years. Some kids might be in our program for a few months because, as soon as they turn three, they have to transition out into another program,” said Hance.
Transitioning out of Early ACCESS can go one of two ways. Either the child truly has a delay and needs the extra support that can be provided by the school, or they are transitioned to another program because they don’t have a delay, but they have a condition that could lead to a delay.
A child who was born significantly premature would be one example of a child served by AEA because of the potential that child has to develop a delay or disability.
“Not all children that are premature end up with a learning disability,” Hance said. “Some of them do, and because they have that condition (of being born premature), we can serve them.”
Although 80 percent of the services provided by Green Hills AEA benefit children with special needs, Haws said services have been expanded to include career and college readiness for high school students, giving them an opportunity to get out in the community and get some hands-on experience.
The Authentic Learning Network (ALN) is a new program that began in 2017 in response to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Future Ready Iowa initiative. ALN partners with the schools and local businesses to give students hands-on experience in real life job settings and expose them to careers and opportunities they may not have considered.
“The idea is to work with local business partners to match students so they’re solving authentic real world problems and they’re making those connections,” said Digital Learning Specialist Stephanie Lane. “’So this is something that I’ve learned in math. This is something that I’ve learned in English, ... and this is how I can apply what I’m learning.’ So, it kind of draws the picture for them.”
Lane said KSIB has been a tremendous business to partner with, and for the last two summers, Chad Rieck, KSIB program director has employed students directly out of the CAST (Communication and Service Technology) classroom at Creston Community High School to be interns at the station.
“We’ve employed interns to build commercials,” said Rieck, “and I was blown away last summer with the quality of the commercials. We had just a few that they did, so we expanded the program this year and went to multiple schools, multiple communities. Now this summer, I think there were probably 10 or a dozen commercials that they created for us. To see the work of basically 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kids and what they’re capable of doing. In my opinion some of the commercials are better than what we see coming out of Des Moines from the TV stations. You can tell when they’re locally produced. These things are just amazing.”
On the KSIB website is a link to the ALN network, where viewers can select from pages for Panther TV, Eagle’s Nest, Tiger Network or Raider Vision with options to watch a live stream of current games or on demand streams of past games, and the commercials are shown during those broadcasts.
“Part of our relationship with the CAST program, and not only the CAST program but the ALN altogether, is we are providing the schools with equipment and services for streaming their varsity sporting events,” said Rieck. “The idea behind that was to – the thing that intrigued me the most about it was, how can we get kids excited about broadcasting? This has provided an avenue for those kids to discover that when it comes to streaming a high school game, yes, one of the jobs is running the camera, but prior to running that camera there are multiple things that go on behind the scenes before that broadcast ever takes place, whether it’s the high school stream or whether it’s ESPN doing the national championship football game.”
Haws, who only recently took on the role of administrator, said she felt it was important for people to know what AEA was, that it was deeply embedded in the schools in Iowa and to make parents aware of just a few of the programs AEA offered the communities and schools it serviced.
“Our tax payers are helping provide these services to children,” said Haws. “They don’t always know what we’re out here doing, so we want to raise awareness and help people know all the good work that goes on for kids.”