Makerspace Movement in Ottumwa

Joni Nicholson, Elementary Teacher-Librarian for Ottumwa Community School District

maker magnetThe Makerspace movement has created a buzz in the library-media community.  Many public libraries have embraced this opportunity to add more hands-on activities to appeal to their patrons.  But in the school setting, teacher-librarians often express many concerns about how to incorporate a Makerspace into their program with so many obstacles.  These obstacles—time, space, and budget—are not new to any of us in school libraries, but they don’t have to be roadblocks that keep you from creating a great “Makerspace” of your own.

Stacy Moran and I, both elementary librarians for the Ottumwa Community School District, teamed together to do  just that.  We were both wanting to implement some form of Makerspace in our libraries, but we were both faced with those same pesky obstacles.  With classroom teachers’ schedules already being very tight, we knew it would be a challenge to find time to add another event into the school day.  In some of the older school buildings where libraries are often confined to a classroom or a converted auditorium stage, space was another issue.  And of course, adding another item to an already meager budget seemed impossible too.  These are not concerns unique to the Ottumwa Community School District.  Most other schools face these same constraints. Continue reading

Lakeview Elementary Closes the Gap for Students in Special Education

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Featured on – Centerville’s Lakeview Elementary has seen tremendous success in closing the Literacy achievement gap for all students, but especially those in special education. “When I think about where we were six years ago when we were first reviewing data in the SINA process and where we are now, I attribute that to support from the AEA and our staff’s willingness to redesign instruction,” says Principal Terri Schofield.

A suggestion from the AEA to include special education students into general classroom instruction and a change in grade-level team structure set the foundation for achievement. “With C4K and MTSS, we began to develop our tiers. Special education students have 90 minutes of reading instruction, Title 1 intervention (students recognized as scoring below FAST benchmark), and specially designed instruction,” she explains, “Teachers have changed teaching to meet the needs of the way kids learn!” Continue reading

Support through Assistive Technology – from Pal-Pad to Head Switch: Meet Zackary

Ellie Hamilton, Assistive Technology Specialist

Zackary, a student in the Centerville District, receives homebound special education services* from Great Prairie AEA. The district and AEA work together to serve and support Zachary’s learning. Earlier this year, his IEP team requested that GPAEA’s Assistive Technology Team complete an assessment of his needs. The team, along with Zackary’s family, used the Student Environment Tasks and Tools (SETT) form to prioritize what tools were needed to support him. It was determined that Zackary did not demonstrate a preference for items and was currently using a pal-pad switch to activate switch activities. The goal became for him to demonstrate preferences for items using a variety of assistive technology tools. Continue reading

This is Eli…

Jennifer Woodley, Communication Specialist

A little over a week ago, I visited Jamie Reifsteck’s first grade classroom in the Fairfield Community School District to participate in an Autism Awareness activity. I was welcomed by a group of smiling faces and blue shirts! “We are all wearing blue today – for Eli!” they told me, “Eli has Autism.”

Eli’s family (mom, dad, and sister) visit the class a couple of times a year to share information, lead awareness activities, and encourage the kids to ask questions about Eli and Autism. “All this is to help build a community around Eli. We don’t want the kids scared or confused, and we want them to be comfortable interacting with Eli anywhere at any time,” explained Eli’s dad and Great Prairie AEA School Improvement Specialist, Mike Stiemsma. “It’s great when they see him at Hy-Vee, they run up and give him a high 5 and say “hi” even if he doesn’t say “hi” back.” Continue reading

Success for Maddox

Maddox-1st gradeEveryday AEA Speech-Language Pathologists provide consultation and therapy for children who have difficulties with language, voice, articulation, and stuttering. Recently, one Great Prairie AEA staff member received a wonderful note of appreciation from an area parent:

Dear Ms. John,

I’m Maddox’s mom (West Burlington) and I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for all of your work with Maddox these last few months. He loves his time with you and we have seen such incredible progress in such a short amount of time. A couple of weeks ago, he started saying his L’s, and is so consistent and determined! It still catches me off guard to hear them, and they come more and more naturally. Last night, he really caught me off guard when I got home from my studio and he told me he had just taken a “bath”. Last night was the first time in entire life he said “bath” and not “baf”. I made him repeat himself about 5 times, and the rest of the night we kept saying “th” words back and forth to each other. He randomly practices the sounds that you do with him, and I love hearing the pride in his voice as he does it. His J’s sound more like Z’s instead of the D’s they used to sound like, and he is consciously practicing his SH’s, too.

I knowing teaching in any sense can be a thankless job sometimes, and I wanted to make sure you know just how much we appreciate what you are doing for Maddox, and how thankful we are to have you in his life.

Thank you!
Wendi & Travis Riggens-Miller

“It is always great to receive feedback from parents, who can hear the speech behaviors changing in their child,” replied Diane John, GPAEA Speech-Language Pathologist. “Maddox is a joy to work with and be around – children like him, are the reason that I do what I do!”
Learn more about Speech-Language services from Great Prairie AEA at

Finding His Step… Aiden’s Story

by Deena Recker, Orientation Mobility Specialist

Using his AMD to find the door opening to class.

Using his AMD to find the door opening to class.

I am an Orientation and Mobility Specialist, working with GPAEA since August 2012. My role is to help our students who are experiencing reduced vision or no vision to understand the environment and learn how to move safely within it.

When I began working with Aiden he was 4 years old and not walking or crawling. He struggled to understand the world around him due to his lack of visual information. With the help of his IEP team and paraprofessional, Nancy, who faithfully follows the routines set for Aiden, he has learned to support his body weight using a stander, begin standing alone (with leg braces for support), then walking with support, and now he is able to walk independently and without braces. Using an Adaptive Mobility Device (AMD) and changing it as his abilities have grown, Aiden continues to make tremendous progress. Hopefully within the next year he will be ready to use a long cane for travel.

Aiden attends a regular education class and with the help of teachers, therapists and his paraprofessional, he is learning alongside his peers. The Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Lane Anthony, is instructing Aiden in Braille so he can learn to read and write without vision.

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Fun with FOSS Kit at Keota and Burlington

by Rosemary Peck, GPAEA Science Specialist

In late September, I visited pilot classrooms at Keota Elementary (Keota) and Blackhawk Elementary (Burlington). The teachers in these two buildings are implementing the FOSS kit curriculum in a pilot program establishing a partnership between VAST Center (Van Allen Science Teaching Center) at Grant Wood AEA, the Eastern Iowa Science Consortium and GPAEA. More information about this partnership opportunity will be shared with Great Prairie LEA administrators in the coming months.

During my visits to the classrooms, excited, engaged and enthusiastic students were making observations, asking questions, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing data, writing in science journals and making connections to what they were learning in the classroom to the world outside, in their local schoolyards.

Kindergarten students of Mrs. Wax (Burlington), Mrs. Hart and Mrs. McClenahan (Keota), studying FOSS Trees and Weather are observing their “adopted” tree throughout the school year, learning basic characteristics and needs of trees, predicting the changes that will occur, and connecting the seasonal weather changes with the impact those changes have on “their tree” and other living things. Mrs. Wax commented “We are very excited to be learning about trees this year.  We were even more excited when a tree showed up in our classroom.  We will watch our tree through the seasons and see what happens to it.   We also took guesses to see how big our tree will be by the end of kindergarten and when we are fifth graders.” Continue reading

Data Team Success at Keota

Chris Detwiler, Angela Snakenberg, Lisa Brenneman, Deidra Baker, and Schuyler Snakenberg (not pictured, Jenny Hobbs)

Chris Detwiler, Angela Snakenberg, Lisa Brenneman, Deidra Baker, and Schuyler Snakenberg (not pictured, Jenny Hobbs)

Lisa Brenneman, Keota Principal

Keota Jr/Sr High School has made some noticeable changes this year.  These changes are having a positive effect on motivation, how kids learn and overall positive culture throughout the building.

We began by developing a data team structure during the 2011-2012 school year.  A team of lead teachers was identified and worked with Lisa Brenneman, 7-12 Principal, Cory Johnson, then Great Prairie AEA School Psychologist and now School Improvement Specialist, and Sharma Parlett, Great Prairie AEA Regional Director to read and discuss Leaders Make It Happen.  As our team read the book, we began to apply the Data Team principles and developed a plan for implementation of Instructional and Building level teams.  In June 2012, we used Teacher Quality funds to hold a two day retreat for our building leadership team. During this time, we used a variety of data sources to identify areas of focus as well as individual student needs; we also used this time to finalize our plan for Instructional Data Teams which included the creation of 9th Period.

When classes began in August 2012, we implemented our Data Team structure.  Instructional Teams (Language Arts/Social Studies, Science/Math, and Building Culture and Climate) began to meet on a regular basis, approximately twice per month during 9th period.  Our Building Leadership team also met as part of this cycle.  Using our 9th Period structure, our teams were able to begin their meetings at 3:00 (during the regular school day) and end at 4:00 while students were assigned to teachers whose teams were not meeting.  During 2012-2013 our entire staff also received the Data Team training provided by Great Prairie AEA’s Cory Johnson and Jennifer Adams.

The focus of 9th period is not only to provide collaboration time for teachers but also support for students academically on an individual basis.  During this time students have access to all their teachers except on days the teacher’s team is collaborating.

Students are required to stay with teachers that have requested them and if they don’t stay they are truant.  The requests change on a daily basis and mean the student needs reteaching, has missing work, has discipline referrals or needs individual attention from a teacher to improve attitude or level of respect shown to others.

The goal is to feed a positive culture.  The positive is that all students “in good standing” earn privileges.  The junior high students go to the gym for recreation/socialization and high school students may choose to leave or socialize/study with peers.  Each student hangs a calendar inside their locker that tells them each day what is going on and what their options are.

One day a month all students participate in teambuilding activities.  Again, this is designed to improve the culture and relationships between students as well as between students and teachers.  All students participate in building activities no matter what level of standing they are in.

Through the data team structure the teachers identified last period absences for school activities as one of the building issues that needed to be addressed.  The creation of 9th period also solved this problem because in the past they would miss an entire class period.

Flexibility, planning and organization have been the key to the success of our data teams and 9th period.  As a staff, we are always looking for new ways to maximize learning and take full advantage of the time we have with students and teachers at school.

Para Educator Partnership Benefits Local Districts

Great Prairie AEA has provided Para Educator certification courses for 11 years, but this spring we partnered with Southeastern Community College (SCC) and IowaWorks to offer credit and financial assistance.

Great Prairie AEA holds the Department of Education certification process to qualify participants for the Para Educator Certificate, SCC grants post-secondary credit (6 credits for three courses) for those classes, and IowaWorks helps fund qualifying candidates with scholarships. This partnership has benefited local school buildings, teachers and students. 

Para Educator Courses I, II and III are required for certification.  Courses are held at the Great Prairie AEA Burlington Office. All courses have an online component. There is an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and a Federal Bureau of Investigation background check for a fee of $65 and a $40 license fee due upon completion of all three courses (when submitting application to the BOEE).

Register through GPAEA’s course catalog at www.gpaea.orgFor more information contact: Megan Cramblet, Great Prairie AEA, at 319-753-6561 ext. 1261 or

For information about financial assistance contact:
Debbie Dowell
IowaWORKS Region 16 Director
319-753-1671  ext. 31406

What is a Para Educator?

Para Educators, in partnership with other staff, support and enhance the education of children. They work under the supervision of teachers, who have the ultimate responsibility for the design and implementation of education. 

Para Educators are assigned to students who have barriers to learning. They may work with small groups of children, or one on one and are often assigned job duties to free up teachers’ time for other instructional tasks.

Other terms:  paraprofessional, educational aide, associate, or instructional aide.

Occupational Therapy Month, April 2013

COTA Deb Mueller working with a student

COTA Deb Mueller working with a student

Each year in April, occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants, and students in practice, education, research, and science host a month long celebration showcasing the importance of Occupational Therapy.

Thank you to our Great Prairie AEA Occupational Therapists:

  • Karen Aherns
  • Lynn Coppage
  • Carol Havelka
  • Marty Hudson
  • Kathy Jaske-Gardner
  • Amy Ramsey
  • Paula Renard
  • Elise Spronk

We also would like to recognize and thank our Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants:

  • Vonn Gould
  • Ashley Hobbs
  • Joe Hudson
  • Michele Mihalovich
  • Deb Mueller
  • Chris Williams

Continue reading

Shedding a Light on Autism: David’s Story

David and Marci

David and Marci

Marci Prose, Parent

My husband, Adam Prose has lived in Ottumwa all his life and I, Marci Prose have lived in Ottumwa since our marriage about 10 years ago. We had our first child, Elaine about 9 years ago and our second child Izabella about 6 years ago. About two and a half years ago my husband and I had a life changing experience. Our third child, our first son entered into this world July 7, 2010 we named him David James. From the moment he was born our lives changed, not only was it the change of having a new child to care for but he went above and beyond in needing care.  I knew from birth that there was something different about David. We exhausted possibilities of what could be wrong in his first year-two years of life. We visited doctor after doctor all in hopes that someone would find out what caused our son the trouble he was having.  He wasn’t a normal happy baby that we had experienced with our two girls, he didn’t smile, he didn’t laugh, he screamed for hours and never seemed to be happy and content and started missing childhood milestones.

When we took our son into the doctor at the age of two we had a little light shed on the subject, the answer was autism.  We had evaluations and heard that our son who was 25 months at the time was really at a 10 month level on some of the developmental marks. It wasn’t a lack of parenting or a lack of trying on our part. My husband works on copiers at Bailey’s in Ottumwa but I stay at home to be with the children to have a parent present in their early education. I knew that we had tried to teach David. Those were challenging times trying to figure out autism and what exactly it was. Neither my husband nor I had ever had experience with autism and frankly it scared us. We didn’t know where to start but there were people who did, the same people who evaluated our son and told us he had autistic tendencies. The therapist did not diagnosis our son autistic but at least had the answers of what road we needed to travel down. We started therapy in the fall and after just a few therapy sessions our son started changing.  The stress of our family started declining. He started getting content and happy. David’s therapist come and spend about an hour with him every week and not only do they work with him on skills, they teach us how to teach him. I can’t even imagine what life would be like for us if they had not entered our son’s life.

I am inching closer to having three years in the battle on autism under my belt. The first two years I didn’t know what I was battling but I would have to say these last couple of months have been the easiest. Because of his therapists I not only have a clue as to what I’m fighting but they have equipped me with the tools I needed to fight this battle. I cannot imagine continuing my battle alone.

I hope that in the future as autism rates increase families will continue to get the support they need from the AEA programs such as Early Access. The last battle these parents need to be facing is how they are supposed to face this battle alone. I understand that budget cuts happen. As a society we are very concerned about government programs and cutting spending. Many people wouldn’t understand why the Early Access programs are important but being in the midst of the program I can tell you that they are. Statistics prove autism is only growing so to shrink programs aimed at helping these children and parents would be horrible. Autism has many faces and one child with autism will be completely different to another so there isn’t a single “instruction manual” to use we can’t just expect these parents that will have children diagnosed to understand a spectrum disorder. That’s the value of these therapist, they have seen one on one the different faces of autism and can understand the intricacies that even us parents can’t see!

AEAs Impacting Lives – March 2013

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Teamwork is the overall theme of this month’s Impacting Lives update at Read how AEA professionals work with schools, families, organizations, and especially the students they serve to create opportunities for improved life and learning.
This issue includes:

  • Teamwork Continues to Improve Life of Ogden Boy with Hearing Loss
  • Meet the People Who Make a Difference: Speech-Language Pathologists
  • Northwest Iowa Boys Transition Smoothly to New Family

Making a Positive Impact – One Student at a Time

Story originally published March 14, 2011 in The Cornerstone. Click here to read more Success Stories.

By Nancy Brown, GPAEA Communication Specialist 
(Contributions from Diane John, GPAEA Speech-Language Pathologist)

Eric Waples, student

Eric Waples, student

Great Prairie AEA and the local school district educators in southeastern Iowa work in partnership to make significantly positive impacts on each and every student in each of the 35 districts in the area. Once in awhile, one student stands out as one who has made tremendous progress for one reason or another. This article focuses on one such student and we are proud to share news of his progress. The student is Eric Waples, a High School Junior attending Danville Community School District. Eric is not new to the AEA; services have been provided for him since he was 2-years-old. Eric is special in many ways. He loves books. He has an excellent memory. He is very interested in technology and computer usage. He has autism, speech and language challenges. And he is a very positive and intelligent young man.

Continue reading

Success for LuCasey: A Family’s Journey

Melanie Patton, Parent,


LuCasey, now 15, in High School and very successful

Our family moved to SE Iowa in late 2008.  Our previous school experiences in another state had been little more than “glorified babysitting” for our daughter who suffered with frequent seizures.  Due to the seizure disorder and medical difficulties, she had many learning disabilities and delays.  It was difficult getting to know the area and the services available for our 11 year old special needs daughter, LuCasey.  We didn’t even know what an AEA was.  We looked around at a variety of schools and decided on Mt. Pleasant, where LuCasey finished her school year at Harlan Elementary.  It was then recommended that she move on to the Middle School.

The teacher at the Middle School, Tiffany Menke, was phenomenal and she and the AEA staff were very helpful in assessing LuCasey’s needs and providing appropriate services.  For the first time in LuCasey’s school life, we felt that she was receiving an appropriate education and support services to help her grow into the child she was supposed to be, even with the disabilities that she faced.  Not only did we find support for our daughter’s education, we also found the school and AEA supportive of our family and LuCasey’s behavior challenges.

During this time, I met the PEC Coordinator for our area, Kelly Wallace.  Because of the difficulties we initially had in finding out about services, both in and out of school, I had a desire to help other parents.  Many times, valuable information I received came from other parents.  Kelly encouraged and assisted me and last spring I started a Support Group for Parents with Special Needs Children called Our Special Kids – Southeast Iowa.  This group is open to all parents and families dealing with any type of special needs.  The group’s mission is to share information, and provide support and encouragement to one another.  We meet regularly and also stay in contact via email and our FaceBook Page (Our Special Kids Southeast Iowa).  Kelly and the AEA have been an invaluable support to our family and I wouldn’t have gotten this group going without their help.

Our daughter is now 15, in High School and very successful under another amazing teacher, Kathy Holtkamp.  The teachers, paraprofessionals and the AEA Staff in Southeast Iowa are amazing!  Outside of the regular school day, they have taken her to afterschool functions, including middle school dances and this year, the High School Homecoming Dance and activities.  Recently the staff accompanied LuCasey and her whole class to the movies on a Saturday night so that they could all feel like their “typical” peers.  We have been so blessed that everyone that has been involved in our daughter’s education has been supportive and willing to contribute to her success.  We have also been treated with respect and dignity and as a part of the team, since parents are the “Specialist” for their child.  Having come from another state where the services weren’t meeting our needs, we are grateful to the Mt. Pleasant School District and the Great Prairie AEA for all they have done to ensure that our daughter is successful and grows into her full potential.

Successes in Secondary Transition at Ottumwa High School

It is always important to give credit where credit is due and place a spotlight on any district that has shown great strides in making things happen!  Secondary Transition service is one such area of focus that reflects an excellent model found at Ottumwa High School.  Their Special Education Department Head/Transition Coordinator, Michele Cooper, has led the way over the years, along with a supportive administration, a great faculty, knowledgeable GPAEA core team providers and an active Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, to bring in different levels of future services for students.

Here are some of the other building activities that make transition development so successful:

  • The area of transition is a priority for students at the point of entry to OHS through their graduation. Parents and students are routinely asked for their input at every staffing when considering the future for post-secondary work or educational planning.
  • The students have a Guided Study class in which they meet with their special education advocates daily. The students remain with their advocate all four years to encourage the relationship building.  By the time students become seniors, their advocate knows the strengths and career interests of each student.  During this Guided Study period, each IEP student meets with his/her Special Education teacher to improve skill areas, check on course progress, complete transition assessments and further planning opportunities for the future.  Each student is involved in their own IEP process, working with their advocate to develop the appropriate IEP to meet their needs.   Many of the students direct their own IEP meetings.