People have been trying to get this message out for quite awhile now, and we're hoping the title of this editorial might attract attention, so someone can say it again.
We'll put this as simply as we can - Our population in Northwest Iowa has been steadily decreasing for many years, people. The group which has seen the biggest drop is young adults. Young adults, of course, are the most likely group to produce young children... and because the young people with young children are not choosing to live here, the school census has dropped steadily in most area schools.
None of this is news, of course. But here are some other rather startling facts. Forty years ago, Aurelia High School had roughly 250 students in grades 9 - 12. Ten years ago, that number was down to 100. In a couple of years, the 9-12 student count will be approximately 66-67 TOTAL students for the four grades - about the same number as Aurelia had in EACH of the four high school grades in the late 1960s.
The other amazing fact is that when Aurelia had 250 students, the school offered a lot fewer activities for students than it now offers - no wrestling, volleyball, girls' track, softball, swing choir, jazz band, and DECA, to name a few. The high school also had four cheerleaders - total- who led the cheers for each sport.
So you have a much smaller group of students trying to participate in a much greater number of activities. What this has led to in Aurelia now - in the current school year - is a situation where the junior high football team and wrestling team have had to start sharing with other schools because of low "numbers". And, the high school girls' basketball had only 10 girls go out for the team this year. This has already led to the cancellation of the junior varsity game on their first game night, against MMC on Tuesday, and could well lead to more cancellations.
One solution that was considered was to just schedule "two-quarter" games for the junior varsity, so that the young players could get more experience, and yet also be able to put in some time playing in varsity games, because players are limited to the number of quarters they can play. This did not seem totally practical, either, because it was believed that most schools would not want to travel 50 miles one-way to play just a half a game.
Aurelia is not alone in this quandry, either. A sporting goods salesman, who travels around to several area schools, said that there are several small schools with a critical shortage of players on their girls' basketball team.
The odds of this situation improving appear to be "slim and none." Though it's understandable that schools wish to remain independent, it's time for people in these communities to "wake up and smell the coffee" - or get busy increasing the population.
The Aurelia Board of Education has talked to both Alta and Cherokee about some type of sharing. Some people in Alta think that "it's only logical," and a "natural fit" for Aurelia and Alta to merge. Some people in Cherokee feel "it's only logical," and "a natural fit" for the Cherokee District to absorb at least the high school and middle school of Aurelia.
It appears that something must be done soon - whether it's the Aurelia students going to Alta, to Cherokee, everyone "open enrolling" to whatever school they choose, or some other resolution.
The time has come to act - and the Aurelia Board welcomes well-thought-out, constructive suggestions from the Aurelia community.