Nevada Schools looks to community to help bring more work experiences to students

Marlys Barker, Nevada Journal Editor
Bill Couser, with Couser Cattle Company, shares his thoughts during discussion time at a meeting of school and business people in the community last Thursday. Listening in next to him is Sara Clausen of Key Coop.

Around 30-40 people, including Nevada school leaders and business leaders, sat down together last Thursday to talk about how they can collaborate to bring more real-world work experiences and job readiness learning activities to Nevada students, at all grade levels.

Nevada Director of School Improvement Justin Gross said Nevada is one of nine districts that received a competency-based education grant four years ago, so the district has been on a journey to identify and implement more job readiness and real-world activities for its students for the past three to four years.

As part of its journey, Nevada educators have visited the schools in Taylor County, Ky., during two trips. Nevada Elementary Principal Joel Fey explained that the school curriculum there is based around personalized learning. Kids who are really good at something move on to the next thing faster. But students who need more time can have the time they need. “Back in the day … we just moved on to what’s next, rather than if we were ready,” Fey said, getting nods in the room from those who remember that you went chapter by chapter as a class and moved on together. “The idea with (personalized learning),” Fey said, is that “if someone needs a little more time on a subject, you can have that.”

Gross said another thing about the Taylor County Schools is that they have utilized the idea of enterprises and other methods to give students more real-world, hands-on experiences. For example, he said, they have their own student-run bank, a screen-printing business and a basic mechanics service that does oil changes and such. “They had these things all the way from elementary to high school,” Gross said, and he noted that similar types of programs are happening in Iowa, too, at schools in Cedar Rapids, Pocahontas and Waukee.

What has come out of the visits and studies that the competency-based education team has reviewed is that the programs that work are mutually beneficial, both to the students and the “client,” and they are all about learning, Gross said.

When school officials interviewed business people in Nevada about what they will need in kids as they become 21st century workers, Nevada business needs closely matched those that other communities have listed: critical thinking, complex communication, creativity, collaboration, flexibility and adaptability, and productivity and accountability. Nevada business people specifically spoke to one other thing they want to see in future workers, which may speak to what makes Nevada special. Nevada businesses want to hire empathetic and compassionate employees.

The Nevada Schools already have some great things going on when it comes to career readiness. Some examples are the FFA tractor refurbishing projects, Noah’s Garden at the elementary school level and the coffee bar at the high school.

Now Nevada educators want to do more. “Hopefully, we’ve opened your mind,” Gross told all those in the room. “We’re asking, is there a way for you to join us on this journey?”

Business people were asked to consider if they can provide internships, be part of an ‘industry expert’ project pool or help involve students in a work project that will have an audience/clientele for them.

It was mentioned that Nevada educators are also looking to establish “LAUNCH” — Learning, Application, Understanding, iNquiry, Compassion, Honor — a program that inspires students to “invent, inquire and innovate.”

While there are many good things going on already, and another job experience program called SCALE will be introduced at the DMACC Hunziker Center in Ames next year, Gross is looking for business people in Nevada to step up and become involved in helping students learn even more, as educators work on ways to account for these types of experiences in the curriculum.

Sara Clausen, who represented Key Coop at the meeting, said she thinks school, community and business collaboration is invaluable. “I am so pleased to live and work in a community that nurtures these discussions for the betterment of our students,” she said.

Gross said feedback from the meeting was positive. “Industry leaders present discussed the willingness to collaborate with us to create meaningful learning experiences for our students that will allow them to apply their learning,” he said. “We look forward to continuing this discussion and networking with other business and industry leaders as we begin to implement many of the initiatives we discussed.” Gross added that any businesses or industries who would be willing to partner with the school may contact him at 515-382-2783.