December 19, 2023

Get to Know the AMES Center

In February of 2023, the Ames Community School District Board of Directors voted to purchase Lutheran Services in Iowa’s former Beloit Residential Treatment Center. The property, located at 1323 Northwestern Avenue, is just a few blocks from the high school, and will be used for a variety of purposes, including special education and homeschool assistance.

Through a phased process, this building will become a multi-purpose site housing therapeutic classrooms, the Home School Assistance Program (HSAP), additional learning opportunities for the Transition Alliance Program (TAP), professional development space, after-school/summer programming space, and more. The main building provides ample space to expand existing programs and services offered by the District. For the site to become usable space, the District first needed to plan for renovations to the main facility. Due to the multi-purpose use of the facility, the District adopted the name Ames Multipurpose Educational Services Center, or the AMES Center. 

The acquisition of this new space heralds an exciting era in educational innovation. While colloquially referred to as an “alternative school,” this multifaceted facility is not as the reference deems and is far more than a learning environment. It stands as a testament to our commitment to diverse and personalized educational services. This space is designed to be a dynamic hub, offering a range of specialized programs and resources that cater to individual learning styles and needs, aiming to redefine the narrative surrounding education. This facility embodies a forward-thinking approach that recognizes the unique potential of each student, providing a versatile and inclusive space for learning and growth beyond the confines of conventional schooling paradigms.

In the first phase, implementation of therapeutic classrooms was prioritized. A therapeutic classroom is designed to meet the unique needs of students who require additional support due to emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenges. These classrooms aim to create a therapeutic and supportive environment that helps students overcome obstacles and develop the skills necessary for success in both academic and social domains. Teachers and staff in therapeutic classrooms receive specialized training in addressing emotional and behavioral challenges and, if needed, work closely with mental health professionals. The curriculum and interventions are tailored to meet the specific needs of each student. This may involve personalized learning plans, behavior management strategies, or counseling services. The small class sizes allow for more individualized attention and support than can often be done in traditional classrooms.

“Offering an off-site elementary therapeutic classroom in a centralized location would allow the District to maximize efficiency,” said Thomas,” by having specially trained staff provide services to the one or two students from each elementary school who might need intensive therapeutic services.” 

In a second phase, HSAP and TAP will be prioritized. The Ames HSAP has served over 300 students each year for the past seven years. The District currently leases space for this program. With the number of students participating in the HSAP roughly the equivalent of our preschool center or smallest elementary school, the District wanted to connect with homeschooling families and students more intentionally. These students and their families are members of our school community and providing space within District-owned property allows the Ames CSD to connect in meaningful ways. 

Since HSAP holds enrichment classes two half-days and one full day per week, some space will be shared with the TAP program. TAP is a partnership between the Ames CSD and Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS). Participants in TAP are individuals eligible for special education and related services, students covered by Section 504, and any individual with a documented disability who receives assistance in the areas of vocational training, independent living, and post-secondary education. TAP is rapidly expanding with participation more than doubling in the eight month period between February and October 2022. Kate Ringstad, TAP Coordinator, and Jerry Stewart, TAP Specialist, have worked tirelessly to build partnerships with local businesses, identify eligible students, and expand services. 

“The Transition Alliance Program really is focused on that transition piece from high school into whatever comes next,” said Ringstad. “The end goal is finding out what students are interested in and figuring out what careers might match that.” 

This space would allow the opportunity for food service, retail, and soft skill development through TAP as well as opportunities for larger group employer presentations. While giving hands-on education in these areas, it also opens up the opportunity for students to put these skills to the test with real-world experiences. 

Professional development and event space, tangible resource management, and after school and summer programming are also priorities in the long-term planning for use of the AMES Center space.

Thomas says these plans allow the District to bring together students for all four Title eligible schools for after school services. “This allows for maximum efficiency in resource use,” she adds, “because teachers could provide small group and large group supplemental instruction for more high-needs students at one time than is possible in a single school setting.”

As the District continues to work on centering instructional improvement in our work, professional learning space has become increasingly important. Currently, the Boardroom in the District Office is the only commonly-available space conducive to professional learning for large groups of people. District professional development needs for educational assistants, new teacher orientation, Crisis Institute Prevention training, and other important training necessitates additional space to accommodate large groups for professional development.  

In addition to these programs, the school district is exploring the possibility of being open to the community for a variety of other opportunities. This could include after-school programs or child care, tutoring, and community events, providing a space for the Ames community to come together and connect.

The acquisition of this property is a major step for the District, one that marks a transformative step towards fostering a dynamic and inclusive educational environment. This multi-purpose facility symbolizes our commitment to providing students with a holistic and enriching learning experience. As we embark on this new chapter, the potential for innovative educational services and programs is limitless. This space will not only serve as a hub for academic excellence but also as a testament to our dedication to nurturing the diverse talents and aspirations of our students. With boundless opportunities ahead, we are excited to witness the positive impact this facility will have on the educational journey of our students and the broader community, creating a legacy of learning and growth for generations to come.