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DSM USA: A Model for the Future of K12 Education

Student Voice Supports EDGE7525

July 2, 2019

Strong public schools are my greatest bragging point about Greater Des Moines (DSM). But nationally, I don’t think anyone would argue that public schools are receiving the innovative or financial support they deserve in order to provide relevant and rigorous learning to students in an ever-changing economy.


As a current student, I have a front row seat to how the economy and its demand for talented workers is changing before our eyes. Simultaneously, we’ve found ourselves in an epidemic of seemingly underappreciating the institutions that make up the backbone of our democratic society in this country. That’s why the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Education Drives Our Greater Economy (EDGE) initiative is so important. With the world of work constantly evolving, EDGE is designed to cultivate cradle-through-career education and training to ensure 75 percent of Greater Des Moines working-age adults have degrees, certificates and other credentials by 2025.

Student Voice

There are models of excellence happening in Greater Des Moines that we can look to for guidance in to create a regional model that is overcoming the challenges presented by evolving workforce demands. I now work for Student Voice -- the nation’s largest by-students, for-students 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization inspired by the premise that education should work for all students. We’re currently on a national tour visiting schools from coast to coast to amplify local education stories and empower students with the resources and programs we offer.



In our recent Greater Des Moines tour stop we visited two schools that don’t much feel like a school at all: Waukee Aspiring Professional Experience (APEX) and Des Moines Public Schools’ Central Campus.

Waukee APEX

As a 2016 alumnus of Waukee High School and inaugural student in the Waukee APEX program, I know the great hands afforded to students in this district firsthand. Waukee APEX draws on the expertise of business partners to bring the real-world application into the high school experience. Through a collaboration of education, business, and the community, Waukee APEX develops highly skilled, adaptable, global innovators and leaders.

While visiting, a student associate shared that she was going to be a K-12 Special Needs Educator, until she found a passion for web development and graphic design. Instead of graduating early, she enrolled in two APEX courses and has now launched her own web development company while still in high school. This is only one example of the revolutionary, hands-on learning that students experience at APEX. 

Des Moines Public Schools’ Central Campus

The second school we visited was Des Moines Public Schools’ Central Campus where we spent most of our time in the Urban Leadership class, the powerhouse students behind Movement 515. Central Campus is a regional academy serving students throughout Greater Des Moines with opportunities that complement and extend the programs of the region’s high schools. Over two thousand students from dozens of Iowa High Schools experience the Advance Career Training Programs. With academic planning and support in high school, students have the opportunity to earn community college credit and two-year Associates Degree at no extra cost.

Students in the Urban Leadership class learn in-depth knowledge regarding social movements shaping US History, equipping them with the leadership skills necessary to becoming change agents in the Des Moines community. While we were there, students were focusing on the intersection of race and ethnic communities and that of the LGBTQ+ community. As the class is very active and covers subjects that can be challenging to discuss, the educators fostered a family environment in the classroom (also known as social & emotional learning) to develop students leadership abilities. Based in the principles of hip-hop culture, students also take part in annual poetry slams and plan an entire event,Teen Summit, to provide a platform for expression to their peers.

In order to fulfill the needs of our changing economy and meet the EDGE 75X25 goal, we have to take non-traditional approaches like the above to equipping students with the knowledge and support they need to succeed post-graduation. After our two school visits, I am more convinced than ever that we must invest in reforms that challenge students’ minds while nurturing their hearts. Our inaction is a disservice to today’s students and the region we care about with a burning passion. 

At Student Voice, we know that young people are capable of much more than what is currently afforded them in a traditional model sitting in a row of desks for seven hours every day of back to back classes filled with repetitive low-level regurgitative learning with an expectation to be compliant and respect authority. Today’s young people are masters of growing STEM careers and want to be passionate and purposeful about the job they have.


As adult leaders in businesses, governments and schools in Greater Des Moines, we need your help to make experiences like Waukee APEX and Central Campus a reality for all students in our metro. Continuing to fund schools with the current property tax formula is not the answer to affording Des Moines’ students rigorous and relevant learning for a growing economy. This may mean finding ways to provide incentives to public districts who are rethinking how they deliver instruction or expanding course offerings at Central Campus to serve more students in Iowa’s largest district.

School cannot continue to look like it has for the past 100 years in order to meet the EDGE 75X25 goal. Quite simply, our economy and our world do not look like it did 100 years ago and it’s long past due for how we educate students to evolve with it.

I know that Greater Des Moines (DSM) is the perfect size with the collaborative leaders to take-on this challenge facing today’s students and tomorrow’s workers. It’s important work we are all called to solve. I believe that we have the power as business, government, organization and school leaders to expand the models of excellence that already exist and become a nationally referenced region for educational excellence. 

Please show your support by signing up for EDGE and take the pledge today!

Education Drives our Greater Economy (EDGE) aims to ensure that 75% of DSM working-age adults have postsecondary degrees, certificates or other credentials by 2025 that align with workforce needs. Sign up and take the EDGE Pledge today!
Ian Coon

Well caffeinated and goal driven, Ian Coon is a Des Moines, Iowa native. Ian is constantly tweeting about those typical Generation Z topics of school inequality, politics, race and trendy music. Outside of the digital world, Ian is a current student at Wartburg College - a small liberal arts school in Waverly, Iowa.