Council Bluffs Community School District just completed the first of three week-long orientation sessions for incoming high school freshmen.
The redesigned program, funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, is called Leveraging Youth for the Freshman Team. Students can earn half a credit hour, or an elective credit, for completing it.
“We have a tremendous (transition) program for (incoming) sixth-graders, but we didn’t have a comparable one for ninth-graders,” said Sandra Day, 21st Century Community Learning Center grant program director.
For the past two summers, the district has offered an orientation for incoming ninth-graders who wanted to work on social-emotional skills and building relationships, Day said. LYFT is open to all soon-to-be ninth-graders.
During the program’s first week, Abraham Lincoln High School had 23 students and Thomas Jefferson had 17. Day expects those numbers to jump during the second and third weeks, based on preregistration.
“Our goal is to double that next year,” she said.
Students spend weekday mornings in orientation at the high school they will attend and the afternoons visiting a local employer. They receive free breakfast and lunch. Two teachers from the high school and one from the middle school that feeds into it work with the students in the morning so they have a familiar leader and two they can start to get acquainted with, said April Balm, site supervisor at Thomas Jefferson High School.
Orientation touches on the school building, location of different departments, club sponsors, credits (48 are required for graduation), plans of study, relating to staff and peers, hidden curriculum and responsibilities and study skills, Balm said. High school juniors act as mentors.
“The main thing most incoming freshmen are terrified about is finding their way around the building in the time between classes,” she said.
The students are given several tours of the building so they can find the best way to get from one part of the building to another, Balm said.
“We do a scavenger hunt where they have to find different things around the building,” she said.
Hidden curriculum — described by Balm as “things older students understand that aren’t written down anywhere” — includes procedures for having lunch in the cafeteria and appropriate behavior during classes, passing periods, pep rallies and other activities. Students also have opportunities to ask questions.
The visits to local businesses were added to orientation this year. Career Exploration opportunities for older students were offered in June. On Wednesday afternoon, Thomas Jefferson class members toured Acieta to learn about careers in robotics. The company designs, assembles and programs automation systems for commercial customers.
Acieta, founded in 1983 in Council Bluffs as Automated Concepts Inc. (ACI), was later purchased by Ellison Technologies Automation (ETA) and was renamed Acieta in 2014. “Acieta” in Japanese means “tomorrow,” according to Greg Morehouse of Acieta. That idea is echoed in the company’s slogan, “Delivering Tomorrow’s Automation Today.”
Morehouse guided the tour and showed students robots that performed repetitive tasks — such as shaping a piece of metal into a machine part or putting mail trays in a box — much faster than a person could and with consistent precision. In some cases, the task involved lifting or other movements that could have eventually given a human worker back trouble or a repetitive motion injury.
Clients’ systems are set up at Acieta so they can be tested and demonstrated for customers, Morehouse said. Then, Acieta ships components to the customer’s facility, where an Acieta worker or team reassembles the system, retests it and trains the customer’s employees how to use it.
Acieta usually backs its work up with a one-year warranty and services its systems indefinitely, he said. The company has a service team ready 24/7 to troubleshoot systems employees have built and installed.
Employees come from a variety of backgrounds, including engineering, sales, accounting and others, Morehouse said. However, it’s important to have strengths in areas critical for your position. For example, it takes “a ton of math” to become an engineer, he said.
“It’s more how you fit into our culture than it is what your degree is,” said Christy Briley, human resources director.
Employees need to share Acieta’s core values of putting the customer first, maintaining a positive attitude, having a passion for their work, being trustworthy and taking ownership in their work, she said.
LYFT students are required to create a presentation and share what they have learned. Those who complete the program successfully earn an elective credit and receive their Chromebooks in July — more than a month early.