Highlights of Experience Education’s Half-Century of Education Projects

On June 13th, 1966, the Department of Education announced the award of a grant to the Red Oak School District in the amount of $258,242. This was the result of legislation known as the Elementary & Secondary Education Act of 1965. Crafted largely by then Senator Hubert Humphrey, it was a measure to introduce new ideas into the schools of America and infuse these ideas into school districts throughout the USA. As one of the first grant applications to be made from the state of Iowa, Mr. William Horner, then the Audio-Visual Director for the Red Oak Community Schools initiated a proposal to serve six Southwest Iowa Counties with classroom media in the fall of 1965. The Southwest Iowa Learning Resource Center, by gaining support of all twenty-two school districts in those six counties, was awarded approval under the section of the legislation known as “Title 3—Innovative Plans and Supplementary Centers”. A new building was constructed in Red Oak, Iowa to house a media library, study carrels for adult continuing education, printing and graphics areas, and a Spitz A3-P Planetarium which seated 76 people in a auditorium setting. Two bus-loads of students from the project area were given a “once in-a-lifetime educational experience by Philip Olive, under a 30 foot dome sky, along with a full media-based “star show”. On weekends, the planetarium was made available to the general public for the same purposes, as well as “Monday night at the Movies” special events with film presentations along with resident experts to discuss topics not usually available by any other means in the ‘70s. A system of daily delivery of 16mm films, filmstrips, transparencies, tape recordings, and study prints, was delivered to every building, every day by delivery vans from morning to night. That daily delivery system was the first of its kind in the USA---from the largest 16mm film collection in the USA. The improvement to the classroom learning environments throughout the project area, every school day, was rewarded by all of the county boards of education, as well as all of the local districts, allocating the local tax funds to carry on with the program after the federal funds were over. LRC staff was dispatched to all schools on a regular basis to provide media workshops and other needed educational assistance to all of the schools which generously set aside time for their respective teacher “workshops”.
National attention, along with data that was collected caused the Department of Education in Washington DC to renew the grant amounts for the next two years, even though the grants were originally designed to decrease by 33% each year. By year four, the districts voted to fund the project with an $8 per pupil subscription to continue all Experience Education’s activities. Three more counties joined to the project made it a 76 building area of service. The name of the organization was changed in 1969 to Experience Education, and it applied for and was approved as a non-profit educational corporation under Section 501 c-3.
Throughout the ‘70s, innovations took root in communities throughout the Project Area. In a statewide effort to increase services to local districts, the State Legislature of Iowa passed legislation to create Area Education Agencies (AEAs) throughout the state. Mr Horner was chosen to lead the “Area 14” section of the state agencies, but he chose not to leave the organization that he founded, that was now entering into publishing its own new educational media messages. A “trial balloon” of Iowa History Inquiry Study Prints” was published and made available to Iowa elementary schools. It was a big success, because the traditional publishers of educational materials did not “see the market” even though Iowa’s elementary teachers found that they enhanced the Iowa History curriculum that they were required by a state mandate to offer. That led to the creation of educational programs that were “missing in action” for schools because main-line publishers focused on the more traditional subjects and printed materials…..instead of more current curriculum subjects in a mediated format.
Media Now
A curriculum that ExEd called “Media Now” was developed and implemented in the ‘80s. Mr Ron Curtis, a media specialist on ExEd’s staff led the creation and implementation of fifty “hands-on” media kits that allowed high school students to “learn by doing media”. Media Now became an approved project by the Dissemination Review Panel in Washington DC, and as a result of that approval, Media Now was implemented in nearly one thousand high schools throughout the USA. It is during the development of “Media Now” that ExEd invited a graduate student named John Ittleson, from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois to assist in its development. He spent a distinguished career in the University of California University system, and has spent the last thirty years of that career as a valued member of ExEd’s Board of Directors.
That reception by schools, led Experience Education to address the efforts to become more relevant to the career education demands that were felt by schools in the development of Project Discovery. Here again, a series of “hands-on” activities around the theme of “People/Data/Things” work activities, gave students a chance to try out their skills by doing the Project Discovery packages that fit their skill potential. A former “industrial arts” teacher, Roy Bastian headed up this major development activity. Project Discovery was usually implemented in the “Shop Class” replacing the making of bird houses or lamps by everyone. Project Discovery, too, received approval of the Dissemination Review Panel in Washington DC, and found its way to hundreds of classrooms throughout most of the USA and several other countries.
They were awarded a contract to make a 16mm film for the Department of the Interior which was used to present the Youth Conservation Corps to Congressional committees entitled “Hard Work-Good Times”. Numerous other media projects kept staff busy innovating and producing and distributing new product for schools that had not been previously created by the more traditional commercial educational companies. Another high priority during the ‘80s was Nutrition Education. The Swanson Center for Nutrition in Omaha, Nebraska became ExEd’s partner as they developed “Experience Nutrition”. Once again, ExEd relied on the “hands-on” approach to build “Nutrition Barrels” full of “fun-to-do” activities for grades 1-8 in elementary schools throughout the USA. Experience Education was never timid about the use of cartoons to convey educational messages. Liberal use of sound and other media always accompanied the “self-instruction” activities of the materials produced.
The 1990’s brought a variety of other projects to a variety of ages and places. “Lifelong Learning”, which was headed by Norma Fisher, brought “movies” to nursing homes. At the same time, New Life Ministries, headed by Michael Reed, brought educational opportunities to prisoners in Midwest Prisons. Jennifer Horner founded the Southwest Iowa Latino Resource Center in the building in Red Oak, Iowa, when Experience Education moved to Omaha NE to continue its work there. She, with the assistance of Iowa State University, developed a series of DVDs entitled “Exito En El Norte” which is still available. After the move to Omaha, NE , Steve Horner, who graduated from North Park University in Chicago, undertook the development of a media production studio in a rented facility where they began the development of a series of video materials for parents to assist them to prevent alcohol and drug problems that that were causing major problems in our society. Families For Prevention, with the financial support of the Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Company in Omaha, NE, recruited noted actor and television personality, Mr. Ben Vereen, and Latino Activist, Luis Valdez, along with other well-known voices of prevention education in the USA, to provide parents “in-home” tools to deal with this issue. They also joined with internationally-known Boys Town in Omaha, NE, to co-produce “Common Sense Parenting” in the Spanish language with Luis Valdez narrating the series. Finally, through a grant awarded to Experience Education through the University of Nebraska/Omaha, another audio-based program known as “Sound Foundations” was headed up by Ms. Beth Gausman to provide practical “in-home” assistance to parents of infants up to children five years of age. The Families For Prevention video series was chosen by the United States National Guard Bureau to become a part of the "Youth ChalleNGe" curriculum for at risk high school dropouts who were drug-free and with no criminal record as part of their "life coping skills" of parenting preparation. Training days with NGYC staff were conducted throughout the United States by Mr. Horner to implement this innovative parenting program. All of these programs (now known as “Family For Life” are still relevant and available to parents who seek assistance in the difficult task of raising their children. Steve set the path for ExEd to become a highly regarded media development organization, and, for the last twenty years, he has worked as an independent composer in California. In 2019, he was the composer for the Oscar nominated short film “One Small Step”. Steve currently serves on ExEd’s Board of Directors.
Next 50
The next fifty years are beginning to look like they may become the organization’s most profound and innovative contribution to the education of people around the world. Its Founder has identified two areas of societal needs to which he and his staff will be devoting their time and experience base in a new and positive way-----Neuroscience Education------and----------- Environmental Education. It is safe to say—even at this early stage in 2020, that the developments in these two areas are important to follow as major “BREAKTHROUGHS” are occurring. Creating education and training materials, that help students of all ages adapt and appreciate these “BREAKTHROUGHS”, will utilize the lessons learned from the first fifty years of innovative programs result in the implementation of efforts related to the subjects of Neuroscience and Environmental Education.