Department consultant honored for technology work
You wouldn’t think Vic Jaras thinks small. But it comes naturally for this 6’ 8” man. His perseverance to even the smallest of details has helped forward Iowa’s before- and after-school programs.
It is, as he would say, “what’s best for kids.”
Jaras, an educational technology consultant for the Iowa Department of Education, works to ensure technology is available to low-income students across the state. His commitment has earned him the 2013 Advocate of the Year Award by the Iowa Afterschool Alliance.
Though surprised and pleased with the honor, it certainly isn’t what motivates him. It is not that he just loves helping students; he has a strong sense of obligation.
“I am a father of three and a grandfather with six grandchildren and have spent many years helping others,” he said.
Jaras also serves as the state program consultant for the 21st Century After School. Each year, about $5 million is awarded to provide before- and after-school programs and summer school programs for children.
The overarching goal of 21st Century Learning is to establish or expand community learning centers during non-school hours to provide students with academic enrichment opportunities and supportive services necessary to help them achieve academically and develop socially, emotionally, physically, and behaviorally. The schools selected for participation must have at least 40 percent of their students eligible to receive free and reduced-price lunch.
Jaras also works with REACT Center in Cedar Rapids, a non-profit group that provides free computers for rural districts.
Though Jaras’ background is in technology, he knows where it fits in the grand education scheme of things.
“With children in poverty, the priority is to feed them,” he said. “Next comes literacy, since it is the foundational skill that kids need to use everything else. However, when we use technology to support learning with teaching, great things happen to student learning.”
Technology tools, he said, “make it easy for classroom teachers to implement a Socratic-based lesson or unit where the child can develop inquiry and thinking skills.”
Without such a program, many of these students would simply go without technology.
“From a purely technology perspective, there is a digital divide gap where poor students often do not have access to technology,” Jaras said.
Jaras’ commitment hasn’t gone unnoticed by his colleagues.
“I have had the honor of working with Vic closely over the past year-and-a-half and have been impressed with his targeted focus on what is best for our kids,” said Michelle Rich, the network coordinator for the Iowa Afterschool Alliance. “He knows the impact after-school programs can have on academic achievement, behavior, and family stability and has worked doggedly to support programs at the local level seeking to help in our communities.”
Jaras, she said, has been an ardent advocate for ensuring that the program is serving Iowa’s highest need students and communities. In fact, the program is serving 500 more children than last year with slightly less funding.
“He has established himself as a partner with the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grantee organizations and communities and has worked really hard to strengthen relationships between community-based organizations and schools,” Rich said.
His Advocate of the Year award is a small way of honoring his huge commitment, she said.
“We know he works hard for the multiple projects he manages, and does his job very well with a laser focus on, as he would say, ‘what’s best for kids.’”