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Community building class presented in webinar

By Staff | Jul 5, 2019

Rugby High School Social Studies Instructor Kevin Leier presented the school’s new community building class in a webinar hosted by the North Dakota Department of Commerce last week.

The webinar, part of North Dakota’s Main Street Project, explored ways to engage youth in their communities.

Both Leier and Cavalier Mayor Lacey Hinkle shared strategies they used to involve teens in city government, commerce and community functions.

After Hinkle told how she integrated community building efforts by youth church groups to form a club at Cavalier High School, webinar leader Ally Carson asked Leier to explain how he sparked community interest among Rugby teens.

Leier began his presentation by inviting participants to view “Rugby North Dakota Downtown Project,” a YouTube video put together in 2017 by his North Dakota studies class.

“(The video) got us going in the direction of community building, I guess,” Leier said.

“We had a project that we did in North Dakota studies, and what ended up happening was I just was looking for something neat to do, kind of a project-based learning experience for students,” he continued.

“And, it was the perfect unison we were looking at the history of our town, and we really liked to highlight that, (coincided with Governor Burgum’s efforts to revitalize communities).”

Leier added, “We actually had a community forum where we showed the documentary and reflected the whole process, and Lieutenant Governor Sanford was able to come, and he was developing the Main Street Initiative.”

When the forum finished, Leier recalled, “I was like, holy smokes, we’ve got something really good here, and we should continue trying to pursue this.”

Leier said he next met with Rugby High Principal Jared Blikre to discuss forming a new elective community building class. “The first thing the principal said was, ‘I think it’s an awesome idea, but what are you going to do for curriculum?'”

After building a class curriculum from scratch, Leier launched the class, with nine Rugby students enrolling.

Leier said, “About 90 percent of this class is project-based learning that was directly tied to our community.”

Last year, the class participated in the Rugby Job Development Authority’s “Tour the Potential,” an event where prospective business owners and community members toured vacant downtown buildings and generated ideas for their possible use.

Leier said students researched and wrote down histories of each building on the tour.

“The kids took groups around the buildings, and property owners would explain what the building was currently being used for, or what space would be available. Then, the students put flyers up in each building of what used to be in each building before, so people could see what the history of each building was.”

Next, the students participated in a community forum held last fall, attracting the attention of North Dakota Department of Commerce officials. The students’ input led to an eventual visit with Governor Doug Burgum.

Work outside the classroom was an important part of the class.

“For me, it was always, how do we extend ourselves outside of the 45-minute classroom (time)?” Leier told the webinar group.

The class made use of both a Rugby School District bus and computer applications for their projects.

In one such project, students compared and contrasted Rugby with other communities of comparable size in North Dakota, the United States, Canada and in other nations.

Leier said the class also helped to improve an application they often used. He described the project as a “student-generated idea”.

“One of my seniors came up with the idea, ‘What if we went on Google Maps, and we updated the entire Google Maps for Rugby with accurate information for their businesses what times are they open, and the actual address?’ So that way, when they (users) put it in, they’re going to get actual information that can take you right to the front door of that business. Because we had a lot of things on Google Maps that were incorrect, gone, placed in the middle of a field; it was just highly inaccurate.”

“And that student took the lead, and he knocked it out of the park,” Leier noted, describing how his class researched location data, communicated with Google, and edited inaccurate information.

Leier noted, “All of a sudden, we start hearing people say, ‘Our stuff’s all updated on Google Maps.’ Our JDA Director said, ‘I was on there, and I was trying to figure out how to get our office in the right location, and all of a sudden, it was changed!'”

Leier told the webinar viewers he plans to continue the community building program at RHS.

Plans include collaborating with a Rugby High business instructor to build what Leier called “entrepreneurial strength.”

“That doesn’t have to be necessarily just for high school kids; that could be for anybody wanting to start a business, or going through the struggles of starting a business. So, basically, the concept would be modeled after the One Million Cups concept that Fargo and Bismarck does; have it something that is generated by students from the high school.”

Leier said a central theme in the class was making small changes, or incrementalism, and he has seen lots of success.

Building the opportunities for community involvement into classroom time helped as well.

“They took this class because they wanted to,” Leier noted. “And that’s what you’ve got to do, get them to that point where they want to do it. Having that built-in time in school is allowing them to get there.”

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