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Project manager Travis Frush, right, gives Ohio presidential hopeful and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan a tour of the University of Northern Iowa Metal Casting Center Wednesday in Waterloo.

CEDAR FALLS — Presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, shared his education reform plan at Maucker Union’s Elm Room at University of Northern Iowa on Wednesday.

Ryan, 45, focused on K-12 education and the struggles of low-income families.

“Over 50% of our kids in the United States, public school kids, are low income. … When you are low income you bring a number of adverse experiences … circumstances that cause trauma,” Ryan said.

Around 20 people listened as Ryan laid out four main points to improve student performance, starting with the well-being of teachers. He wants to ensure proper salaries through tax credits and support teachers’ physical and mental well-being.

Ryan stressed a holistic approach to student health involving healthier meals, emotional support and more parental engagement, something he called “a 21st century approach to our schools.”

“These are national problems,” Ryan said, responding to a question on federal involvement in local schools. “It’s in our national interest to make sure we are investing — that’s the broader idea.”

Ryan said small towns need the help.

“If you don’t have a tax base, it’s the old, ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’ and you don’t have any boots,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to help these communities. … I think that’s a national interest.”

By incorporating social, emotional and cognitive skills into curriculum, Ryan also hopes to provide students the tools to succeed, set goals and gain character development. He wants classes that prepare students for the future, such as home economics and makerspaces.

An audience member pointed out the Malcolm Price Laboratory School, which offered such programs, was torn down by a “Republican-controlled Legislature,” and asked how to get bipartisan support for such initiatives.

“Show them,” Ryan said, “because there will be schools and states and communities that will embrace this and run with it. … You just continue to build it out and let people know this is working.”

Steffany Kroebger and Elizabeth Sutton asked how to nurture children once they walk out of the school yard. Sutton said school may be a safe space, but many children don’t have the same support at home.

“We need support for broken systems,” Kroebger said, “because those kids all go home somewhere.”

Ryan said by giving children skills in the classroom, “they go home with tools in which to deal in the environment, and I think this is how you change the neighborhood.”

“It’s a super important contribution to start these conversations,” Sutton said. “The question is, how then do you go about solving those issues?”

Ryan said his focus is starting those discussions.

“I’m talking about … how we close the door on this age of anxiety to start healing — these broken systems, the division — by really coming together and having an honest conversation around that.”

Ryan stopped at TechWorks in Waterloo following his talk at UNI.

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