"I didn't have the opportunity to go to college when I got out of high school. I'm getting that education now through our community education program," says Betty Winston, seventy-two years old, who was born in West Des Moines, Iowa, and put three children through its schools.
Winston is one of many residents benefiting from services offered by the West Des Moines Community School District, a district that for more than twenty years has followed a mission to serve all community residents, not just school-aged children.
The district's commitment to its community is reflected in every aspect of its operations. Parents and community members serve with teachers, business people, and representatives from city government on site improvement teams that set the direction for each of the district's fifteen schools. In addition, a community education advisory council conducts a community-needs assessment every few years to determine what kinds of programs should be offered.
Even the district's school buildings have been designed with both student and community use in mind. Computer labs and media centers are open to the public after school hours and during the summer, and some businesses rent them for training sessions.
In addition, school buildings are used for community organization meetings, inexpensive summer camps, and for community events, such as the annual Parent University and the Elder Fair. The connection between schools and community will be reinforced even further when the city completes construction of a new library and city offices on a school campus.
Parents and community members like Winston ensure that the schools have a steady supply of volunteers. School events attract as many as 95 percent of the parents, and community volunteers flow in and out of schools daily. "People wonder why we don't leave during the winter snow," Winston says. "I tell them, there are too many things going on in this community that we can take advantage of, too many friends, too many things to learn."