A special open house at the Great River Gallery this past Wednesday night saw much interest in a variety of areas of learning, community service and technology.

It was all part of the Bellevue BIG program, which is intended for juniors and seniors and encourages students to think beyond the classroom using real-life projects to benefit and improve the community.

Now in its fifth year, the program has about 30 students and last Wednesday’s open house was the season finale of sorts for the 2018-19 school year.

Students showed off their projects with displays and answered questions about what they have accomplished.

One of those projects was the upcoming Rock at the Lock event, set for Friday, May 24 at 5:30 p.m.

In cooperation with the City of Bellevue, the Bellevue Big Rock at the Lock team is putting on a summer concert series for the community.  The project involves coordinating local bands, vendors and sponsors for a successful annual event.

Another project is Kids that Kare, which provide food to local students, as well as families in need.

The group partnered with St. Stephen’s Food Bank in Dubuque to provide weekly meals to send home with elementary students throughout the year and also offers fresh food pick-up on a monthly basis.  Kids that Kare also hosts monthly summer meal events.

Unified Champions is a Bellevue Big project connected to Special Olympics. Unified Champions promotes social inclusion through planned joint activities for students with and without intellectual disabilities.  Student-planned events include ice-skating, bowling, and an area-wide dance. Working with similar programs in other area schools, the goal of the project is to create a climate of acceptance, respect, and human dignity for all students.  

A project called BIG Tech was also highlighted. The BIG Tech team purchased and assembled computers for the Bellevue High School business lab, promoting classes in coding and computer applications.  Future plans involve designing websites for local businesses.

In addition to all those projects, the Bellevue Big students also have teams that raise honey bees and a hydroponics team that produces fresh lettuce.

Big students often meet in the office of the Great River Gallery in downtown Bellevue to work on various projects, including the Bellevue Buddies program, which matches up high school mentors with elementary students.

Overall, Bellevue Big advisors Matt Jaeger and Curt Ernst explained that the community project-based Bellevue BIG course encourages its students to think beyond the realm of high school and broaden their horizons into the community.

“Not only do the students have a platform to explore their passions, but they are able to innovate and bring real-world change to different businesses or community members of Bellevue and beyond,” said Ernst. “These projects are intended to spark innovation and reignite a creativity that traditional courses fail to provoke while still meeting the core high school standards. “

“The demanding and unusual curriculum encourages more than just logic-based thinking and strengthens the right brain to develop well-rounded students who are prepared to solve real-world issues,” he added.

Bellevue BIG is loosely based on the Iowa BIG model that is housed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.