News of another mass shooting at a school bares a stark reminder of one lesson our children have to learn in a place where they should be the safest.
"I don't care for the fact that our staff members even have to think like that as they come into work or that our students have to think like that when they are simply trying to learn," said Sioux City Community School District Superintendent, Dr. Paul Gausman, "but they do have to be prepared and the students and staff have handled that very admirably."
The Sioux City and South Sioux City Community School Districts prepare for any emergency, running drills several times a year and making sure staff and students are as prepared as possible should something ever occur.
"What can we do as school leaders, as parents, as community members to prevent anything from happening in the future that in any way resembles this," said South Sioux City Community School District Superintendent, Todd Strom.
"We have a series of crisis plans in this district and from the school board all the way through the staff members in the district, we cover those each school year," Gausman said. Those plans are never made public, even discussed in closed sessions by the school board.
"We've done more in the last 5 years than this district has done in history in terms of preparing students and staff for the way in which they will react should a tragic situation occur," Gausman said.
Safety within the buildings is paramount for both districts. Each has implemented a locked door system with camera entry during the school day.
But there is one other major point of impact Sioux City and South Sioux City have focused on as well: mental health.
" We are providing more mental health services in schools than we've ever provided in history," said Gausman. "And I am not talking about Sioux City, I'm talking about the nation and that has even grown stronger with the pandemic."
Sioux City has utilized COVID funding to add several new mental health services and plans to continue those services after that funding has lapsed.
And South Sioux City has implemented the "Safe 2 Help" program for mental health assistance, placing magnets and signs throughout each building and sending resources home with students.
Both districts also partner with their local law enforcement to have police officers within their buildings for additional support.
"We have two SRO officers that are highly trained and are there for that reason, to provide safety," said Strom, "but also to provide an outlet for students to talk to and share things."
Both districts share a common message and one of importance: if you see something say something. "There is a difference between gossiping and reporting something that causes you concern," said Gausman.
Strom echoed that message, saying, "nothing is too small. Bring it forward and we want to help each other and we want to lift each other up."
At the end of the day, student and staff safety is both districts' top priority.
"This is not the kind of topic that I want our staff and students to have to think about," Gausman said, "but they do and so it falls on us as the leaders of the district to prepare an environment for them where they can prevent challenges from occurring in every situation possible and react properly should something make it past the prevention stage."
"It definitely does take a village," said Strom. "This is evidence that we all need to be collaborating for the best practices and things for our kids. They are our most precious asset."
Both districts offer online resources for students and staff.
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10 p.m. FRIDAY: A small plane has crashed and the pilot was killed near the Wayne, Nebraska airport Friday night during the MayDay STOL Drag Races.
Wayne Mayor Cale Giese confirmed that the crash happened around 6:45 p.m. The drag races were set to take place at the Wayne Airport this weekend.
MayDay STOL Drag Races confirmed that crash and fatality, saying the accident seems to be a result of a "stall spin." The pilot was the only person on the aircraft.
The wrecked aircraft can be seen crashed in a field just off the airport's runway near Highway 35. Two semi-tractors with trailers are blocking much of the scene and law enforcement remains on the premises.
MayDay STOL Drag Races posted on their Facebook Page Friday night that events for the evening had been canceled.
On their Facebook page, MayDay STOL describes the sport as this:
"STOL Drag takes similar skills as in Traditional STOL but pits two pilots' and their planes next to each other and races a course down and back. First to stop without scratching wins. It's a fast paced, heart racing, fun aviation action."
At least 26 pilots were on the roster to participate this weekend. Law enforcement is asking people to stay clear of the area. The NTSB and FAA will be investigating the crash.
This is still a developing story and will be updated as more information is confirmed.
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OKOBOJI, Iowa — Miles of beaches, crystal clear waters and dozens of local restaurants are just a few of the draws that bring thousands to the Iowa Great Lakes every summer.
"I always say if you haven't been here for 10 years, you really haven't been here," said Paul Plumb, "The park has had so many things happen in the last five years." Arnolds Park Amusement Park sits along the waterfront of West Lake Okoboji. Its historic wooden rollercoaster is an iconic lakefront feature, much like the cabins of Fillenwarth Beach.
"We have 96 different units here at Fillenwarth Beach. Most of them are right on the waterfront," said Director of Operations at the resort, Rachel Fandel.
Like the rest of the world, the Iowa Great Lakes Region was also impacted by COVID-19, and now with inflation and workforce challenges, this summer could throw another curveball.
"Workforce has always been a challenge for us in the Iowa Great Lakes Area just because we do have so many seasonal businesses," said Okoboji Tourism Director Rebecca Peters, "because of that, we have we've been able to kind of face this issue head on for so many years."
The summer season in Okoboji isn't just for Iowans and those who live in the Iowa Great Lakes. The region brings in students from across the world to get a taste of Iowa culture and experience a summer of fun they will never forget.
"We also are really fortunate to have a number of J1 Visa students join us in the Iowa Great Lakes Area to experience what this area is like and what the United States is like," said Peters.
A number of the students spend their summers with Arnolds Park. "I noticed because we use a visa program, a couple of different visa programs where we bring not only students but other HTB visas in from overseas and from other countries," said Plumb, marketing director for the park, "we have used that program extensively this year. Knowing that the job market is really tough right now. It's hard to find employees."
These students not only come to work, but experience summers in Iowa, bringing a little bit of their own culture and traditions along, too.
"We were blessed with their culture just as much as they were with ours," Plumb said, "being exposed to all the different cultures that we are because of that program has really helped us grow."
These businesses also work with area schools to bolster the workforce. And locals who live here year-round are dedicated to seeing the region thrive.
Fandel, who has been with Fillenwarth Beach since she was a teen, has seen the dedication firsthand. "You know the improvements that are continually made, the people that sink in hours and finances into this area is just really incredible."
"We are so fortunate for the investment that's been made in this community really over the last 5-10 years and more," said Peters. "This community is constantly looking for ways to improve but also to embrace the history that we have." Fillenwarth Beach has been part of the community for over 100 years, with cabins, cottages, and activities for people of all ages during the summer season.
"We have a very extensive recreation program where we have arts and crafts, we have chocolate tasting, beer tasting, wine tasting, there's always something fun to do for our guests," Fandel said.
And much like Fillenwarth Beach, Arnolds Park has been a stop for many families for generations.
"People come here for many years," Plumb said. "As you know, it's a generational place but not only parents bringing their kids but grandparents and great-grandparents are coming here and enjoying the same things that they enjoyed when they were kids and like you said just family memories that will last a lifetime."
The park is constantly making improvements, while also holding true to its historic roots.
"We tried to create that retro look to the park and just a place for people to bring their families and make memories that are going to last a lifetime," Plumb said as we walked up to The Legend rollercoaster. It's one of the oldest wooden coasters in the United States.
"Our goal is just to see people smile," said Peters as we stood in one of the many museums, this one housing some iconic pieces from Arnolds Park's early days. "This is such a family friendly destination and it has been for generations and so like I said, our goal is to see people having a great time making memories and smiling and enjoying everything that area has to offer." From Arnolds Park, to Fillenwarth Beach and everything in between, the Iowa Great Lakes community takes all challenges head-on to provide the best possible experience to anyone who stops by.
"2020 presented a huge challenge for a lot of us. And we were able to kind of reimagine the way that we do business in this area and it really allowed people the opportunity to still get out and still enjoy the Iowa Great Lakes even through the pandemic," Fandel said, "I'm just really proud of this community and their ability to adapt to those changes. And it's just been really wonderful working with business partners outside of the resort, and I'm really appreciative to all of those people."
Arnolds Park opened for the season on May 21st. The park is open to the public for free with ride tickets sold separately.
Fillenwarth Beach is quickly filling up reservations for the season, you can find more about their cabin rentals here.
The Arnolds Park Area is also home to the Iowa Rock and Roll Museum, the historic Roof Garden, and a new outdoor music venue that will be open this summer for free concerts and events.
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There are some new faces walking the halls of MercyOne Siouxland, but they are not really there for the patients but for staff and they are already leaving their mark on the hospital.
"I feel really honored to be invited to help take care of the staff because they're just as smart as I am. And we have that we walked the same walk and I'm an employee, too." Lex Woodbury is one of two Spiritual Care Chaplains at MercyOne Siouxland. "Because we know that our nurses and the staff work really hard. So our job is to put some air under their wings."
He and Matt Wentz have been walking the halls of MercyOne since February, interacting with staff or just giving a unit a little spiritual guidance.
"Must to be able to interact with them, from people in PICU to ICU to really anywhere," said Wentz. "I try to go everywhere in the hospital whether somebody that's you're working on staff and just to let them know what we're doing and that we care for them."
There has already been a change among the staff and Director of Inpatient Nursing Wendy Prins has seen it firsthand. "I think staff have already started to warm up to the chaplains," she said. "It could just be just a basic conversation. Some of them yes, are sharing more than others. And I believe that as they get to know and become familiar with them and see them on a regular basis, we'll start to see them open up and more conversations will happen."
These interactions are coming after some of the hardest years ever felt in healthcare with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"You know, COVID hit us for the last couple of years. I think healthcare in general, we just didn't realize how much of a toll is taken on our staff and family members and patients," Prins said of her team.
"And we are human beings, too and we need to be taken care of." Wentz says interacting with and getting to know MercyOne staff on a personal level is extremely rewarding. "Part of it is there's just a joy there really is an excitement among the staff when they find out what it is our job is and why we're doing it. They have big smiles on their face and they're like willing to share with us."
Lex and Matt aren't just there for the medical teams, but everyone on staff, for professional and personal guidance. "Because there are times I show up in the cafeteria area where they're taking care of and preparing food and doing the dishes and I just say hey, I'm here if you guys need anything, let me know and just to be able to visit with him," Wentz said.
"They're pretty delighted in that because they also have some concerns and some things that are weighing heavy on their heart." Woodbury agreed, "I can tell you that makes a difference. And sometimes somebody will come up and say, Well, I haven't really talked to you very much but I like to see you come by every night. It just gives me a feeling a good feeling of solidarity that you guys are here.
Because taking care of our medical staff means better care for us when we need them most," which is one reason why MercyOne Siouxland brought Lex and Matt on.
"In order for our patients or our employees to take care of our patients, they also need to take care of themselves," Prins said. "And this is a really big part of that having the chaplains here."
No matter your beliefs, what religion you practice, or if you even practice at all, sometimes all you need is a little faith.
"I've visited with lots of people from different faiths, different walks of life even and some of them don't have a faith and yet they share humanity with me," Wentz said, "and to be able to entertain and have that story kind of shared between the two of us. It's a really great thing."
Currently, Lex and Matt work late evenings and overnight, but MercyOne hopes to add more to their spiritual care team to cover all shifts and parts of the hospital.
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We rely on them to keep us safe and help us during some of our most vulnerable moments and they are put into situations many couldn't imagine.
"We're required to be social workers, we're required to be therapists, a lot of times we're required to be that Emergency Medical Responder," Officers, like Andrew Dutler with the Sioux City Police Department, go through training several times a year.
"But it's as far diverse as driving, talking. We work a lot on communicating and de escalation," Dutler said. "Really anything that you can think of that we do, this is covered in that biannual training."
This spring, part of that training involved field medicine, because oftentimes officers are the first to arrive when life-saving medical care is necessary
"When we show up on the scene, hopefully we can assess it very quickly and then we can apply the appropriate skills to take care of that person," said Dutler.
Officer Calvin Chang was leading the medical training
"We aren't doctors, we don't have the training, we don't have the equipment to completely treat someone right there," said Officer Chang. "So our thing is to stabilize and to get them either to an ambulance or to a hospital where they can get a higher level of care."
In some instances, trained medical staff can't get to those who need immediate medical care. "Places where emergency medical services, ambulances, things like that, can't go in immediately because of the imminent threat," said Chang.
For those who wear the uniform, the job is more than just patrol.
"We know when we get involved as police officers, at very least, people are probably going to be experiencing some discomfort or some anxiety," Dutler said of the job. "And so although this is our biannual training, we do truly train on a daily basis."
And they are constantly working to get better and better serve their neighbors.
"It's an education that's ongoing, and when you talk to officers who have been doing this job for 25 years, they'll even tell you it's like sometimes they learn something new on a daily basis," Dutler said, "since the Sioux City Police Department takes a lot of pride in the amount of training that we do."
These men and women in police uniform, making sure they have the skills they need to help you when you need it most.
"We truly work in a career field where seconds matter," Dutler said, "And so that's why doing this ongoing training, it defeats maybe some uncertainty that might creep into an officer's head when they get to a scene."
"And that's why a lot of times you see officers moving so fast, sometimes no matter what they're doing is because we're trying to assess something very quickly, and we're trying to leave a person or a situation better than what we found it."
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