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Our Dollars in Action: Pickwick Preschool & SparkTank Investments Yield Big Returns for Local Students

In July of 2018, we announced an award of $525,000 to the Ottumwa Community School District to support the Pickwick Early Childhood Center and the expansion of preschool services. The state-of-the-art Pickwick facility is a partnership between Ottumwa Schools and SIEDA Head Start, where all students are served in the classroom without a Head Start or district designation. Ottumwa Community School District employs the Principal, Director, Nurse, 4-year-old teachers, and Paraprofessionals. SIEDA provides support for directors, Family Service Workers, Nutrition Aides and 3-year-old teachers, and paraprofessionals.

The partnership has exceeded expectations. The facility reached a maximum capacity of 400 students within the first two years of operation. “The need for expansion was evident immediately during our first year of Pickwick being opened,” said Dana Belzer, Child Development Assistant Director with SEIDA. “Each year since 2018, Pickwick Early Childhood Center has seen a steady increase of families wanting their child to participate in the high-quality preschool experience that the collaboration is able to provide. The 2021-2022 School Year at Pickwick Early Childhood Center will set a record high for preschool enrollment.” An expansion to the center will provide space for 600 preschool students for the 2021 school year.

Pre-literacy data has shown significant increases in three- and four-year-old students from fall to spring each year. The district has continued to monitor Pickwick Preschool students as they move into the Elementary School classroom. The first two cohorts of students are currently showing a positive trend in the FAST-Reading assessment in both kindergarten and first grade as of Winter 2020.

While the district’s youngest learning are seeing significant successes, high school student’s are also gaining impactful new experiences. The concept of linking students to local businesses through authentic experiences wasn’t new to larger school districts in Iowa in 2018. At the time, Ottumwa Community School District wanted to bring that same experience from schools such as Waukee and Ankeny to students in Ottumwa. Seed funding provided by the Legacy Foundation in 2018 has allowed the district to move from an idea to a 7-course offering with an enrollment of 69 students in the 2020-2021 school year.

The program creates an engaging learning environment for Ottumwa High School students by linking instruction with authentic work experiences through partnerships with local employers. Fifty-six local businesses have worked with SparkTank students since the program’s launch in 2018. “Working with students from SparkTank was a wonderful experience,” said Heather Larson, Legacy Foundation Communications and Special Projects Manager. “I was able to share my ideas for how we could use photos of our community to share with newcomers, and the students went above and beyond to deliver on the idea. They worked with a local photographer to improve their photography skills and then took photos that perfectly embodied what I had in mind for the project.”

The impacts of the program will continue in the 2021-2022 school year with the exciting addition of the Career Campus in downtown Ottumwa.