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Schools benefit from convenience, cost effectiveness of AEA media services

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Keystone AEA media services include books and small media kits containing items such as manipulatives, puppets, games and models. Keystone AEA also circulates occupational and physical therapy equipment, offers print, production and lamination services and gives students and educators no-cost access to digital resources. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

 

This is part three in a series exploring how proposed changes to Iowa’s Area Education Agencies will have a local impact.

 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’s proposed plan to overhaul Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs) stalled out in the House last week, but was advanced by a Senate subcommittee.

 

In her condition of the state address, Reynolds called for major changes to the AEA system, which formed in 1974 and now includes nine regional AEAs that provide special education services, media and curriculum, instruction and assessment and professional development support to Iowa children, families and educators.

 

A bill (House Study Bill 542/Senate Study Bill 3073) released Jan. 10 proposed focusing AEAs solely on special education needs, and providing districts with funds directly to pay for services. In response to public feedback, Reynolds last week offered an amendment that would allow AEAs to continue providing general education services beyond special education, but eliminates $33 million in funding for media services.

 

AEA media services include digital resources and technology, print and production and an extensive lending library of books and physical instructional resources.

 

In a Times-Register article published two weeks ago, Central Superintendent Nick Trenkamp and MFL MarMac Superintendent Tim Dugger listed media services among the top resources their districts receive through Keystone AEA, which covers 22 school districts across northeast Iowa.

 

Media services are housed in building B at the Keystone office in Elkader, which is a hub of activity throughout the week, said Media Administrator Mindy Reimer. On a two-day-a-week cycle, vans deliver resources to 190 PK-12 buildings throughout Keystone AEA. 

 

“On a delivery day, all these racks are full,” Reimer said, pointing to shelving organized by school. “Our van drivers come in the early mornings and pull them, load their vans and out the door they go. Their job is to make sure they have what they need for the buildings and those teachers.”

 

Clerks gather the materials, which include books and small media kits containing items such as manipulatives, puppets, games and models. Keystone AEA also circulates occupational and physical therapy equipment and offers print, production and lamination services.

 

“What our districts might have is a request for a bunch of sight word cards. We’d print them and run it through lamination and send it right back through our van delivery,” Reimer said. “Sometimes they might have posters. We have larger size laminators, so those posters can be laminated and sent back to them. A printing request might be the same.”

 

After schools utilize materials, they are returned to Keystone AEA for other educators to check out.

 

“As the vans roll in, they unload the vans and we have a systematic approach to how we unload. All the items, we go through and sort. Right now, part of the job is inspection. Every kit that comes in, they go through and make sure every item is there so the next person has a really amazing experience,” Reimer explained.

 

It’s a similar process for books. “The books will come in en masse, and we’ll check them in and sort them and put them back on the shelves. Everyone goes through every single item and makes sure the next person has a great experience,” she said. 

 

Keystone AEA’s media team includes eight clerks, three and one-quarter van drivers, a van delivery manager, librarian/administrator and computer programmer. In one day, the group can process 60 to 150 kits and 25 to 30 boxes of books—each box containing 20 to 25 books—per route, according to Reimer.

 

“There’s an ebb and flow to it,” she said, “but we’re very proud our districts find it important and relevant.”

 

As of the 2022-2023 school year, Keystone AEA’s media collection included 28,952 titles of PK-12 lending books. There were 115,180 copies, meaning many titles have more than one copy at the facility.  

 

Reimer said a book of the month program is popular.

 

“Teachers enroll for the grade level of interest and we put them on a rotation and circulate the books to them. Half is fiction and the other half is nonfiction. Once they send those books back, we send them a whole new one,” she stated. “A bunch are circulating right now. We have hundreds of teachers signed up in our area.”

 

The media collection also includes 3,019 professional books (3,745 copies) as well as 4,859 small media (11,454 copies).

 

According to Keystone, it’s a “relevant, vetted and diverse collection of instructional resources in a variety of formats to meet the needs of all learners to positively impact desired outcomes.”

 

“Our general education consultants are very in tune with the items in our collection,” Reimer said. “They do a really good job of promoting them, but also so that people understand best practice and opportunity to utilize the resources in an effective way.” 

 

Area schools are utilizing the services. According to a media snapshot provided by Reimer, 1,948 books, 66 professional books and 2,181 small media kits were delivered to Central last school year. At MFL MarMac, 2022-2023 totals were 1,737 books, 74 professional books and 812 small media kits.

 

Students and educators also had no-cost access to around 20 high-quality, vetted digital resources. MFL MarMac accounted for a combined 140,300 uses of digital resources, which include presentation tools, literacy supports and research tools. Central had over 30,000 uses.

 

“We try to give districts data and statistics on, ‘Yes, you’re affording us money. Are we utilizing those services to expectation?’ You can see that in this infographic,” Reimer said.

 

Keystone AEA’s media services are important, she explained, because they are cost effective. By leveraging the power of collective vendor negotiation and purchase agreements, in combination with a library loan delivery system, all Keystone AEA partner schools benefit with equitable access to resources.

 

In 2022, the average hardcover book price for children’s fiction was $19.24 and $19.71 for nonfiction. Young adult fiction was at $20.42 and young adult nonfiction $26.53, while professional books were $29.97 apiece.

 

The media snapshot says Keystone AEA invests approximately $15.14 per pupil to circulate high quality media resources for just-in-time learning experiences. 

 

“That’s one of the things that’s a real value. Many of our districts would likely go without if they had to make a tough decision. It would be hard to build and utilize a collection,” Reimer said. “What this does is economy of scale. It creates efficiencies around teaching and resources.”

 

She pointed to a novel set as an example.

 

“This might sit on a shelf in a classroom for many years. This way, through library circulation, multiple schools can have access to it. It doesn’t have to sit on a shelf. It can be utilized by multiple rather than just maybe four weeks out of a year,” she shared.

 

Reimer touted the team effort it takes to provide media services throughout Keystone AEA. 

 

Much of that work goes unseen.

 

“It is the rigor and amount of work our staff put into making sure everybody has a good experience. The unseen is the maintenance of this collection, what it takes to make sure everyone can find what they need and get it in a timely way. To make sure the collection is relevant. To make sure we have a robust collection to meet the needs of our schools and the students they serve. That’s the unseen that provides the economy of scale for our districts,” she said. “We’re grateful and proud to be able to provide these services to schools. What’s probably the best is it really meets needs. We try really hard to do that.”

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