Scouting for Opportunities: Rockford School’s Partnership with the Scouts by JIM VANDERKOLK Director of Operations Rockford Public Schools Springtime is here and the demands that come with outdoor activities bring a sense of urgency to the Rockford Public Schools’ grounds and maintenance departments. Falling behind is not an option as teams hit the fields as soon as the snow melts away. One of the sure signs of spring is the letter, phone call, or e-mail I will receive from local Scout troop leaders asking, “How can we help?” This outstanding program assists in spring clean-up for areas of the district that often are passed up for a later date when we are forced to prioritize. Looking back, I don’t want to take for granted the efforts to improve our community by the local Scout troops. In past years, the Eagle Scout projects completed for the school district and community are too numerous to give individual mention and recognition. These groups of outstanding individuals do not offer their assistance for the recognition, but rather for the opportunity to be productive members of the community. The individual perseverance and commitment to acquiring the signatures, materials, donations and approval to fulfill the mandatory requirements is commendable. In this day and age when Facebook, Twitter and video games dominate adolescent culture, it is refreshing to have a group of young people committed to hard work and traditional values. These individuals are not afraid to get outdoors, work hard, and provide a valuable service to their community. “The Boy Scouts of America believes—and, through over a century of experience, knows—that helping youth is a key to building a more conscientious, responsible and productive society (see www.scouting.org). Rockford Public Schools is proud to partner with organizations like the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America that share these core values. As a department, we are proud to share in an opportunity for young people to develop valuable skills, a sense of accomplishment, and ultimately a connection to their community. We truly appreciate all that they do, and hope to continue this valuable partnership for many more years to come. Thanks, Scouts!
SCHOOL BEAT Designing Inclusive Environments by JIM VANDERKOLK Director of Operations Rockford Public Schools My daughter is finishing her masters degree in occupational therapy and presented me with a challenge (as my daughters frequently do): to assess the accessibility of Rockford High School from a wheel chair. So, I did. I navigated through the empty halls. Even though the school meets requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a few challenges are still there, especially with my lack of skill in a wheelchair. Entering various rooms, hallways and athletic fields, trying to get into the art hallway, navigating the elevator, and accessing the football stadium are all tricky maneuvers. I could only imagine what it would be like if I were trying to traverse a busy school full of students, employees and parents. Rockford has always made accessibility a priority. New projects and existing facilities all must meet specific requirements. Continuously evaluated for accessibility in order to develop the least restrictive environment for all. When planning new projects we must consider those who will be using them. For example, a visually impaired individual can locate and access a restroom, classrooms are available for an individual in a wheelchair, and athletic facilities manageable for someone with an orthopedic condition, among many other scenarios. Spending an afternoon in a wheelchair was a unique perspective, to say the least. Our existing facilities should strive for absolute inclusion. It is our responsibility to make accessibility for all a reality. The team component and a district-wide effort to remove hallway and classroom obstacles would improve the flow. Our continued goal is to provide the best possible environment for students, staff and the community. This requires a vigilant awareness of accessibility above and beyond the requirements. Spending time in the facilities with alertness to potential barriers to individuals with special needs will improve our own awareness and ways to improve Rockford Public Schools.