Student vision of the district guides new designs

Drew Hoffmaster | The Chronicle

Students jump on the opportunity to help define the future of the district.

Mason City Schools (MCS) challenged students to create a graphic called a Portrait of a Learner representing their interpretation of the values of the district. On January 25, 2023, three student-created designs were selected by MCS administration, each student was awarded $100 and the winners explained their designs at a community panel.

Deputy Superintendent Amy Brennan said that MCS administration wants to set the district’s vision and goals directly from the students, so the administration can serve the schools better and help prepare students for after high school.

“If we are going to meet our goals of serving our learners and our school community, then we need to be continuously setting a vision and making sure we are on the right course,” Brennan said.

The Portrait of a Learner design project started production when MCS partnered with the professional learning company Battelle for Kids. The company calls the graphic a Portrait of a Graduate but Mason decided to reroute the focus by changing its name.

“We wanted to make it about a learner because learning is not something that ends,” Carson said. “Everyone in the district is a learner. I am still a learner.”

Their designs will be combined to create a final portrait reflecting the future values that the school district will follow. Brennan said the district opened submissions to the rest of the student body to make sure the design embodies the values students see in the district.

“We had a feeling that we would have a lot of students who would be interested in sharing designs,” Brennan said. “So the idea emerged, let’s put [the challenge] out to them and see what they could come up with.”

Senior Charles Wen decided to enter the challenge because it was a good opportunity to help the school, earn money and test his design skills. Wen said he appreciated being able to test his design skills in a real-world situation.

“This design is important to me because it allowed me to make something for the school,” Wen said. “It’s the first real design opportunity with people seriously reviewing [our designs] and considering it as a potential future idea.”

For sophomore Daria Tsyliuryk, the Portrait of a Learner has let her capture her experience moving from another country. Tsyliurk moved from Ukraine at the beginning of the school year and said that she was surprised by how quickly the community accepted her. To demonstrate this, she drew five people of different nationalities hugging in her design.

“[My portrait] shows how big, large and colorful the community of Mason is,” Tsyliuryk said.  “Originally, I was worried about finding friends, but Mason’s community appreciated me.”

Mason City Schools Public Information Officer, Tracey Carson, said that the school district will utilize the final graphic as a reference to make sure the decisions they make will fit the community’s values and provide students with the skills they need after high school.

“[The Portrait of a Learner] is a little bit of a North Star for us,” Carson said. “It is important when [students] are entering the workforce, making a decision about college or enlisting into the military that they have the necessary skills to be successful.”

MCS plans to incorporate the design into physical spaces around the school district. Carson said that she wants the portrait to be more than just a reference, hoping to see the community living by the Portrait of a Learner’s values.

“[The community] does not just want this to be something that is stuck up on a wall and people don’t live it,” Carson said. “We think there is a power in having a visual that brings people together and a touch point that lets people see and feel it.”

When senior Aashna Bhargava started creating her design, she wanted to capture five values that she felt were necessary for students to succeed in school. In her portrait, she chose to surround a North Star with these values. 

“I went with the five words: confident, adaptable, kind, mindful and honest,” Bhargava said. “I think that those were pretty important because to learn, you have those to better yourself and others.”

Bhargava said that she enjoyed the challenge and is glad to be able to help define the values of the school.

“This challenge has been really interesting since the start,” Bhargava said. “I am really looking forward to seeing how my design will impact the district.”