OTTUMWA — American Education Week may have been started by nationwide organizations, but the effort first got rolling in Iowa.
In 1921, the National Education Association assembly being held in Des Moines called for designation of one week a year to spotlight education. Their website says that in the resolution, the NEA called for: "An educational week ... observed in all communities annually for the purpose of informing the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs."
Educator Ann Youngman said when she hosted the first party 34 years ago for the Ottumwa Education Association, she did things a little differently than they're done now. That first year, she asked teachers to go downtown and do mini-lessons in the different shops. And the showcases received extra attention when it involved the work of school children.
"We displayed writings, drawings and other [school assignments]," she said, adding that the stores themselves enjoyed that project as "it brought people in because many of the parents and grandparents went in to look."
Though American Education Week started to teach the community about what the schools do, Youngman describes the event as evolving into a "thank you" to all those employed by a school district who make education happen. Youngman says it's actually the community contributing to the dinner. The sponsors are the people who make the event happen, said Youngman, who has organized the banquet 24 of the last 34 years. Not only do the sponsors take care of food, drink and door prizes, they come in and help decorate the KC Hall, too.
"During the time that we've been doing the American Education Celebration, I've looked, and I have never found a community that has sponsored all the food, drink, the door prizes," said Youngman. "I've researched, and have never seen where they do anywhere else like we do. We have a full-blown evening meal, celebrating our outstanding school district and the people who work in it: We celebrate everyone from secretaries, custodians, teachers and teachers' associates to the administrators, school board members and the Volunteer Grandmas and Grandpas. All of them are invited. Because it takes all of us to make our school district great."
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