SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — Al Heisterkamp always saw himself as an educator.
“Sioux City was where I cut my teeth in my education career,” said Alan Heisterkamp.
Eduction comes in many forms.
After more than 20 years behind a desk and in a classroom, Heisterkamp was moved to make a new investment in young people, by joining the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention.
“I can’t say enough about the Waitt Institute and Cindy Waitt specifically,” said Heisterkamp. “The whole Waitt family created the institute with the full intention of working with a school district to demonstrate impact. We knew what best practices looked like but there weren’t examples over 4 – 5 years.”
Along with the Sioux City Community School District, the foundation began implementing a student mentoring program known today as MVP, Mentors in Violence Prevention.
“We weren’t really asking what they thought, or more importantly, what we could do to help foster and cultivate that positive relationship and healthy school climate,” said Heisterkamp.
After spending a few years working on improving the atmosphere of the schools, Heisterkamp said he was able to start seeing a change.
“In 7 to 8 years, we started seeing the culture in schools change. Aggressive behaviors were no longer there. It’s almost like what took you so long to ask us to be a part of this that you want to accomplish,” Heisterkamp said. “This is where I get emotional because that schools would make the invitation and school leaders would be a part of something greater than themselves. Their role as mentors allows them to leave a legacy at high school.”
“the trust the school district had turned out to be a great opportunity for the first to be innovators and be the first district to say, ‘What if? What’s possible?’ without that it would be difficult to be where we are today,” he added.
The mentoring program was working. In 2011, Heisterkamp took another unexpected turn. He joined the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, creating the Center for Violence Prevention.
Over the last decade, more than 39,000 secondary school students have engaged in the MVP strategies.
Hundreds of high school coaches have participated in the Coaching Boys into Men training program. 40 Iowa high schools now partner with the UNI center, implementing bullying and gender violence prevention programming.
“All those behaviors we know a student needs to be successful at the next level after high school, they’re getting that in the process directly or indirectly. You can’t buy that. There’s no way you can and it’s just magic,” said Heisterkamp.
Heisterkamp point to one mentoring session between a black football player and an openly gay classmate as a time when he knew the program was making a difference.
“How fortunate for freshman boys and students to see older peers very different facilitate a conversation around what it was to be respectful in a school where we’re not okay with racist, sexist language. I thought, ‘How cool is this?’ This is it. This is important stuff,” Heisterkamp said.
Last fall, UNI received a $2 million gift, creating an endowment to sustain the Center for Violence Protection for years to come.
As the center continues to make schools safe, Hesiterkamp is about to turn back the clock more than 20 years. He’s resigning from his position at UNI and taking what could be his last assignment as a counselor at the American School of Bombay in the heart of Mumbai, India. He’ll guide high school students from the U.S., U.K., Japan, Australia, and India.
“The work here at the center will be with me the rest of my life. Work that started in Sioux City, going from coaching to teaching, being a counselor. This opportunity to come here, establish the center to help schools do what they need to do to help students, to have a lasting impact, to think differently about personal responsibility has been just an unbelievable experience,” said Heisterkamp.
“it’s time to hand the baton off to someone with fresher eyes and more diversity with gender and ethnicity. I look forward to being in the learning role and relying on that. Seeking out guidance of others and develop a new friendship in college from around the world and maybe come a connoisseur of Indian food,” added Hiesterkamp. “I’m looking forward to writing the next chapter.”