Bellevue Teens Create a Vision for Their Community

High school students project themselves into the future of an Iowa small town.

March 15, 2017 |

\"These connections are building new never before seen relationships between the school and community...\"--Matt Jaeger, Bellevue Community Schools teacher. <\/p>"

Editor's Note: We want to thank the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque for sharing this story. Learn more about their work at the end of the feature.

On January 31, Bellevue Heart & Soul sponsored an event for students from Bellevue High School and Marquette Catholic High School to come together at a workshop and town hall meeting to create a vision for how young people see themselves in the future of Bellevue. Members of the community attending the event listened to the students talk about their vision and joined them in a dialogue to create an action plan for implementation. Results from a survey of middle school through high school students were presented during the event, and helped provide insight for the discussions. The survey, which was facilitated by the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship (CRE), asked students about their education and career goals, along with their perspective about staying or returning to Bellevue in the future. This project is called Bellevue BIG.

Some of the survey highlights included:

  • 61% rated Bellevue as an above-average to excellent place to live as a teen, which is about 13% higher than polling done in other communities across the country.
  • 87% of Marquette students and 71% of Bellevue students plan to attend college.
  • Nearly two-thirds of teens picture themselves living in the Bellevue area in the future, stating that it was a good place to raise a family, and has strong family ties and quality schools.
  • 15% said they had been asked for their input about the future of the community.
  • Over 68% said they would volunteer if asked by an adult community leader to become involved.

Students cited more entertainment, recreation, shopping, restaurants and job opportunities as areas they would change to make their community an even better place to live. Suggestions included community and park cleanup, recycling, bike trails, a movie theater, and positive activities for youth. Teens viewed a lack of jobs as the largest problem facing their community.

Teens expressed a strong interest in pursuing a broader spectrum of career opportunities in Bellevue:

  • 46% wanted hands-on entrepreneurship learning opportunities
  • 49% of sixth through eighth graders expressed an interest in owning their own business in the future
Matt Jaeger, Bellevue Community Schools technology coordinator and social studies teacher on the visioning effort: "Students in the BIG program walk away with real world community based projects to show what they have learned and through these projects the students build connections in the community. These connections are building new never before seen relationships between the school and the community that is allowing the community to see the great things the students are doing and allows the students to see some of the great things that are going on in the community. Finally, the greatest thing about this model is that it is not meant for just the high achieving student, it is meant for all students and is helping all students become passionate about school again."

These statistics reveal an opportunity for Bellevue Heart & Soul to work with CRE and community partners to develop a youth entrepreneurship after-school program or summer camp for middle school students. The program would include an entrepreneurship expo on the last day of camp where parents, business owners and civic leaders could see what youth can create using their interests, abilities and an entrepreneurial mindset. Most importantly, what the youth learn at the camp would change the way they think and act as they continue to apply the entrepreneurial skills they developed.

Curt Ernst, Bellevue's talented and gifted coordinator, believes, "Bellevue BIG is a great opportunity for students to work on projects that they are passionate about and earn credit through the work they do. Bellevue BIG also connects students with the community. Many of the projects the students work on have some sort of a connection to the community. The skills BIG students develop are ones that will benefit them in their life after high school. To name a few, students learn how to communicate, problem solve, critically think, collaborate, and be punctual. They develop these skills by working with their peers and community members involved in their project(s)."

This town hall event fostered a deeper understanding of an important demographic for Bellevue’s future. The process reflected the three key principles of Bellevue Heart & Soul:

  • Involve everyone by utilizing a process that connects with, listens to, and includes everyone who lives, works, learns, or plays in the community, including those who are hard to reach or underrepresented
  • Focus on what matters by identifying the shared interests and values of community members. Community values represent what is most important to residents and include things that distinguish a community or make it a good place to live
  • Play the long game by remaining focused on long-term success that ensures plans or ideas don’t just sit on the shelf. Heart & Soul focuses heavily on building ownership for and commitment to the results.

Developed by the Orton Family Foundation, Community Heart & Soul™ is a community engagement process that reconnects people with what they love most about their town and translates those personal and emotional connections into a blueprint that serves as the foundation for future community decisions. To learn more or to follow the activities of Bellevue Heart & Soul, visit or follow their Facebook page.

Founded in 2002, the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque strengthens communities and inspires giving. We are dedicated to improving the quality of life throughout Northeast Iowa by serving donors, making grants to local nonprofit organizations, and providing community leadership through convening and collaboration. Guided by the values of integrity, equity and inclusion, collaboration, excellence and innovation, we seek to ensure a vibrant and inclusive Greater Dubuque region with resources and opportunity for all.

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