AEA 267 Four Oaks staff member brings passion for environment to students

AEA 267 bus driver Jerry Magnuson looks on as a student tamps down recycling he has collected from classrooms.

Quietly, so as not to disturb their classmates, Mike* and Brian* carefully wheel a cart loaded with a box of recyclable items from classroom to classroom at the AEA 267 Four Oaks School in Mason City. Jerry Magnuson, AEA 267 bus driver for the school and self-described “green advocate” supervises their pick-up of recycling from each classroom, nine in all.

“Good job being quiet today,” says Mr. Magnuson, and the boys, both upper elementary, seem pleased by his comment.

Brian holds the door for Mike as he wheels the cart through an entrance to another building on the Four Oaks campus. “Thank you,” Mike replies. “I can’t believe how much we have today! How many pounds do you think this is?”

This might seem like an ordinary learning activity that could be taking place in any school across Iowa, except for a couple of things. First, Four Oaks is a school serving students with severe emotional disturbances. Both and Mike and Brian struggled so much in their original school districts that a few months ago, Four Oaks became nearly a last resort. Secondly, these students aren’t just learning to appreciate the environment, their bus driver has also found a way to incorporate math and social development as well. What’s even more exciting? Those students who are chosen to participate in the recycling ritual each week actually see it as a reward rather than a chore. The smiles on Mike and Brian’s faces are proof.

“Are we ready to stomp on it?” says Brian. He’s referring to their favorite part of the activity where one of the boys carefully steps on top of the stack of recycling and tamps it down with small jumps. “We are ready!” replies Mr. Magnuson, helping him up.

After collecting from the last classroom, Mr. Magunson gets out a small scale in preparation for weighing the box. He asks the boys to make predictions about how much it will weigh. The program averages about 55 pounds a week in recycling. Today, the boys have collected 72.2 pounds.

“It’s a record!” says Mr. Magnuson. “Great job today.” The boys then help Magnuson log the results in a notepad.

“Mr. Magnuson has found a way to connect his love for the environment to a rich learning opportunity for the kids here,” said Gerard Gritzmacher, AEA 267 principal overseeing the AEA 267 Four Oaks instructional program. “He’s but one example of the folks who serve kids here. Their passion for helping is clear.”

*names changed to protect the identity of the students.

AEA 267 Four Oaks Mason City School is located at Four Oaks of Mason City, a Psychiatric Medical Institute for Children (PMIC) facility. The school was established in 1973 to serve children with severe social, emotional and behavioral needs from Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota.

The AEA 267 Four Oaks Mason City School serves students from kindergarten through 8th grade with severe social, behavioral and emotional needs. Students have average to above-average intelligence. The school, located on the Four Oaks campus and operated by AEA 267, has nine classrooms serving roughly 40-60 residential students. In addition, the AEA 267 Four Oaks Mason City School serves students, transported daily, from schools within the surrounding area.

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