OSKALOOSA — During Gov. Kim Reynold’s Condition of the State Address on Tuesday, Jan. 14, she gave a shoutout to Oskaloosa.
“In Oskaloosa,” she said, “the school district recognized transportation as a major barrier for students to attend career academies at Indian Hills Community College, so they developed a transportation program to make it happen.”
Thanks to a grant from Iowa Workforce Development’s Employer Innovation Fund the Oskaloosa Community School District is able to provide transportation for students to attend career academies in Ottumwa at Indian Hills Community College.
Oskaloosa, North Mahaska and Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont students have the opportunity to study computer or health sciences as well as welding technology.
Before receiving the grant, students had to transport themselves to take classes at Indian Hills, which was a financial burden, according to a news release, to over 50 percent of the population
Transportation/Operations Manager Bill Almond said he did some figuring and passed some numbers off to Oskaloosa High School Principal Stacy Bandy, who then applied for the grant.
The grant is matched by community partners: Musco, Clow, Oskaloosa Engineering & Manufacturing, Interpower, Mahaska Health Partnership, Cunningham, Oskaloosa Chamber, Oskaloosa Education Foundation, Mahaska Recreation Foundation and Mahaska Economic Development.
Bandy said with the grant, he’s trying to help not only local students but the community.
“A lot of our kids don’t get a post-secondary degree or anything to that nature. So if we can help them and get them a ride down there and get them free college credit, why not,” he said. As juniors and seniors, we’re allowing them to get down there. One thing they have to do is when they’re at school, they have to go through our career tech ed and they have to take the classes that we offer.”
The students don’t have to be transported every day.
“Some of them have some online classes that they just leave here. We’ve had two or three that found out that really wasn’t what they wanted to do,” he said. “And that’s okay. That’s the good part, that they found out that wasn’t the job that they thought it was going to be and so they’re going to go off on another tangent, which is okay. We’re good with that.”
There were only eight students to start off with, Bandy said, but the ones who are involved really want to be there.
“What happened at the beginning of this year was that it was so close to the school year starting, I couldn’t get kids switched into these classes,” he said. “So these are kids that have gone way out of their normal schedule to be able to take these classes.”
While the grant itself was for one year, Bandy said they’re working at the program continuing
“The hope is that it’s going to grow on itself. What it also does is it helps find skills for those kids in post-secondary, which turn around and help our businesses and bring more money into the development of the community,” he said. “So maybe IT people from Musco and Clow and Interpower. Kids that can program robots to work on them. And apprenticeships. This leads into those things. So what we’re trying to do is bolster our whole community to be more educated and in a better light.”
At first, Almond said, the students were transported in a bus, but now one of the school’s Suburbans is being used. Using the Suburban instead of a school bus is one way to save on expenses.
Bandy said he tells students to go experience ‘somewhere else.’
“But there’s always that draw to come back to your hometown. When I wanted to raise my kids, I came back to Iowa and I’m close to my hometown,” he said. “But the deal is, here is where it’s safe and what they know. What we want to do is we want to get them the skills and we want to get them the ability to hold down good jobs and jobs that can be held here in the community.”
Almond said it’s a good opportunity for students.
“That’s what we’re here for,” he said.