Andy and Amy Jo Hellenbrand live on a little farm in south-central Wisconsin where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat, heifers, chickens, goats, bunnies, and their four children, ages 5 to 12. For the entire fall semester, the quartet of grade school students learned virtually from home, as their district elected to keep school buildings closed. That has put a strain on the family, as well as the childrens’ grades and grammar. “I definitely feel like they’re falling behind,” said Amy Jo Hellenbrand. “You just notice certain things as far as their language and how they talk.
Jewell, Iowa – At 3:20 p.m. on a Monday, a voice booms through the public address speakers at South Hamilton School. “Everybody mask up.” A reminder of how much changed this school year. The South Hamilton district — 700 pre-K through 12th-grade students from the rural towns of Ellsworth, Randall, Stanhope and Jewell in the center of Iowa — tackled challenges facing other rural schools since COVID-19 came to Iowa in March and shut down schools.
“You can’t handle the ‘what ifs,’ because there are too many of them,” said longtime activities director Todd Coy. This piece is part of a collaborative reporting project that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, Charlottesville Tomorrow, El Paso Matters, IowaWatch, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico in Depth, Underscore News/Pamplin Media Group and Wisconsin Watch/The Badger Project. The collaboration was made possible by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.
Vicki and Matt Bruening live on a Floyd County acreage with six children ranging from a sophomore in high school to a fourth-grader. Like others in Iowa, the family makes a living in agribusiness: both Bruenings operate an agricultural repair business in New Hampton, and Matt farms with his uncle on family land nearby.
At home, the family raises goats and chickens, with the help of their kids. When COVID-19 shut down Iowa schools over the spring break season in March, farm life gave the Bruenings the benefit of staying busy — but as time progressed, the family was still concerned whether school doors would open in the fall.
“We were most worried about if they wouldn’t be able to go back at all,” Vicki Bruening said. “It’s been a different kind of school year so far, but it’s also been good to get them back in the classroom, back with their friends.”
Bruening drives her kids to school in the morning as a way to provide more time to get ready. In the afternoon while she’s at work, the family relies on school transportation from Charles City’s joint high school and middle school campus, and one of the district’s two elementary schools.
This piece is part of a collaborative reporting project that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, Charlottesville Tomorrow, El Paso Matters, IowaWatch, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico in Depth, Underscore News/Pamplin Media Group and Wisconsin Watch/The Badger Project.
There was a milestone of note recently, and it is a shame there was not a big public celebration. Twenty years ago, Gov. Tom Vilsack and the Iowa Legislature had the foresight to create a program that has brought important changes to communities large and small across Iowa. The program was called Vision Iowa – and it certainly provided that. The initiative enabled communities to bring projects to life that probably never would have gotten off the ground without the unusual financial arrangement that was the beauty of Vision Iowa. State government provided part of the investment for these projects.
Demographics: Iowa’s immigrant children: In 1990 only 2.4 percent of Iowa kids (17,000) were from immigrant families – by 2018 that number jumped to 12 percent (84,000). Multigenerational households: 2011 U.S. Census Survey: 2.6 percent of Iowa’s 750,000 households are multigenerational households and of those include three generations (parent, child, grandchild, ie.) and the majority identify as Hispanic (map broken down by county is on page 4 in the linked census survey). Iowa school districts: According to the Iowa Department of Education there are 330 school districts throughout the state with over 480,000 students and over 37,000 teachers. Districts with meatpacking plants have higher enrollment of Hispanic, Black and mixed race children. These populations are at higher risk of getting coronavirus.