BVU's School of Education Engages, Propels Storm Lake Schools

BVU's School of Education has a long history of collaborating with Storm Lake Schools. This year, BVU was able to help fill the shortage of teachers by providing a Substitute Authorization course and student-teachers for summer school.

BVU at the Center of Sea Change in Storm Lake 

In June 2020, Buena Vista County topped the New York Times’ “hotspot” list for COVID-19 cases. Schools had closed, as had the Buena Vista University campus, and businesses across Storm Lake.

One year later, a sea change occurred amid the lakeside community with BVU at the center of a summer of recovery.

Dr. Stacey (Weaver) Cole ’96, Storm Lake Superintendent of Schools, examined the Storm Lake Elementary School as it teemed with activity, a portion of the 500 students K-12 attending summer school in June 2021 raising hands, high-fiving, and celebrating creative solutions to scenarios presented by student-teachers from BVU.

“There’s no way we could do this without BVU,” Cole said. “The University is a phenomenal partner for our schools and community.”

Cole initially believed 60 students could receive the benefits of a summer school program overseen by school district staff members. But something happened on the way to her planning: BVU stepped in.

Drs. Lucas DeWitt, Program Director for Master of Education, and Brittany Garling, Dean of the School of Education, joined Cole in devising a plan involving 20-plus students in BVU’s School of Education and School of Liberal Arts. Rather than rely solely on certified teachers from the Storm Lake Community School District, Cole could employ BVU students to lead smaller classrooms of learners eager to stay in contact with peers as they worked to erase academic gaps, a residual effect of COVID-19.

“So many of our teachers in Storm Lake needed a break this summer,” Cole said. “They were worn out by a long year of change and adjustment in the schools because of COVID-19. They needed this time to recharge.”

BVU students were anxious for the opportunity. A benefactor put an exclamation point on the plan by underwriting students’ stays in the residence halls. Students, ultimately, can stay for free on campus this summer while teaching in a program funded by the Federal CARES Act for communities fighting back from COVID-19.

“Students are so grateful to be able to stay for free on campus thanks to the benefactor support in value-added funding,” says Garling. “Our students are getting the added benefit of being able to teach smaller groups of students in a less-formal setting than they might have as student-teachers and teachers in the regular academic year. It will certainly help our students transition into those student-teaching roles as seniors.”

Beyond classroom instructors, four BVU social work majors completed internships in the summer school program by offering small- and large-group sessions that address the needs of students of all ages and backgrounds. Students also assisted Storm Lake Community School District (SLCSD) staff members in distributing lunches to children throughout the community, then playing with select groups of students in the parks on designated afternoons.

“The biggest piece contributing to mental health challenges among our children is isolation, particularly the isolation and uncertainty that came with fear during the pandemic,” Cole says. “We’re working to remove isolation barriers as we emerge from the pandemic. The added benefit is what’s happening academically as children dive into STEM activities while enjoying being around their friends during the summer.”

Some 250 students in grades K-7 participated in classes and activities each Monday through Thursday at Storm Lake Elementary School. Nearly 170 students in grades 8-12 took part in classes and credit-recovery exercises at Storm Lake High School. Weeklong camps in July saw 200 students rotating among activities in STEM areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.

“BVU students will have a head-start when they go to teach or student-teach next year or the year after,” Cole says. “We are exploring ways we can make this a permanent program each summer in our school district.”

“If our participation helps children and families close any gaps caused by COVID-19, then it’s well worth the effort,” Garling says. “We also know this experience is preparing BVU’s future teachers and social workers to be the best they can be.”

“The University is a phenomenal partner for our schools and community.” 

Yuselin Vazquez, one of nearly two-dozen BVU education majors teaching summer school, works with elementary students in a classroom at Storm Lake Middle School.

Garling Named Dean, School of Education

Dr. Brittany Garling, Dean of BVU's School of Education works with her students.

Dr. Brittany Garling was recently named Dean of the BVU School of Education. Garling, a seven-year BVU veteran, is a native of Wilton and a second-generation teacher. Her mother, Lori Petersen, concluded a 31-year teaching career this spring with her retirement.

Garling’s family ties to education added another level this spring as she “hooded” her younger sister, presenting a diploma to Melissa (Petersen) Peterson M.Ed. ’21, who earned a BVU master’s degree in special education.

“At BVU, I have found a close-knit group of colleagues who are here to help students grow into being the best educators they can be,” Garling says. “I knew no one when I came to BVU, and it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve grown personally and professionally. And this is the place where my husband, Shane, and I want to raise our three children.”

Garling, who teaches three classes in English as a Second Language (her endorsement area), helps direct a staff that works with 120 education majors on the Storm Lake campus, and 265 majors in online, hybrid, and graduate programs.

Strengthening Ties with Storm Lake Schools

BVU was at the heart of other developments within the Storm Lake Community School District during the academic year.

Facing a shortfall of substitute teachers, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, BVU offered the Board of Educational Examiners’ approved Substitute Authorization course, a 17-hour self-paced online class that allowed 80 BVU students to become substitute teachers, many of whom then served in that capacity in Storm Lake and throughout Iowa, alleviating a shortage that approached crisis level.

Storm Lake also embarked on a dual-language program in kindergarten during the fall, just the seventh Iowa school district to do so. Brian Gomez ’17 taught students on the Spanish side in a project-based program that allows students to engage in Spanish instruction for half the school day. The program will continue as students advance through elementary and into middle school and high school.