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The ‘Future’ looks promising indeed

Students at Future City competition show just how much kids are really thinking ahead

We have seen the future. And it turns out the kids are all right. 

Last weekend, the  regional level of the national Future Cities competition was held at Maple Grove Elementary School in Cedar Rapids. More than 30 teams of middle school students from across the state competed. 

Every year, there’s a theme for students to build around. This year it was “electrify your future,” with teams challenged to create their cities specifically with renewable energy in mind. These fictional cities are set 100 years in the future, and students get the chance to create a narrative of what’s happened in the world between now and then, and how the city has adapted to that.

If you’d been there on Saturday, you would have seen students coming in from all over Iowa to talk about how they think our communities should look and feel.  They had different ideas on how to create a strong economy. How to be environmentally responsible. How to build attractions, like arts and entertainment and exercise options, that would make people want to live there. 

These are concepts that are challenging for adults to talk about. So to see a bunch of grade schoolers doing it – and doing it well – said so much. Everyone present got a glimpse of what our future leaders, work force and world-builders will look like. 

And they look pretty promising. (Take a look at this video and see for yourself.) 

It’s a huge salute to the people who put this event together. It’s coordinated by NewBoCo staff, including Andy Fiedler, Samantha Dalby, and Alison Mohr. It’s led by teachers, coaches and volunteer mentors who work with these students at schools throughout the state. Community volunteers serve as guest judges, keep things moving, act as timers and scorers, and more.  And there’s a massive roster of sponsors who throw their support behind the whole endeavor.

But in the end, it’s really a salute to the competitors themselves. These are 6th, 7th and 8th graders who are having to write essays, build scale models, and prepare a presentation  who have to learn about far more than just city design. They have to learn teamwork. They have to practice writing and public speaking, so that they can go in front of a panel of judges and advocate for their city. Most of all, they have to decide what kind of world that they want to grow up in, and then think about what it will take to get there. . 

“Even if you don’t think you want to become an engineer, there are so many different roles to take on when you are part of a Future Cities team,” said Samantha Dahlby of NewBoCo. “So we want students to keep an open mind and be creative, and maybe have some potential career ideas coming out of this.”

Looking back at Future City Iowa 2024.

“Future City is really an incredible program,” Andy Fiedler added. “These students are electing to spend time outside of school thinking about the future and all the things that go into that, even down to the gritty details of infrastructure and societal/cultural issues that we are dealing with today. And they do it enthusiastically. The results are really impressive.”

Remember, this wasn’t just Iowa. These regional competitions were held all over the country, with the winning teams going on to the national competition in Washington D.C. in a few months. That means that there are thousands of students doing this.

There’s lots of doom-and-gloom talk about the world, and our schools, from people who aren’t actually there.That’s a shame, because the future really was on display this weekend. If more people saw it, more people would come away believing that the kids really are all right, indeed. 

We can’t say enough good things about – or offer enough thanks to – everyone who made Future City possible. But when we look at the results, we can definitely say this: It’s electrifying. 

If you want to know more about what NewBoCo is doing with K12 education, join us at 5 p.m. Feb. 6 for our Fund the Future event. It’s an opportunity to talk with Samantha, Andy, Alison, and all the members of the NewBoCo team, and hear from people who are impacted by our programs. We’re even hoping to have one of the winning teams from Future City there. You can register here.

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