It was a meeting of minds at the Forest Grove School District, with educators, business people, and government officials coming together to brainstorm ways to better prepare students for a changing world.
The underlying point to Thursday’s “21st Century Workforce Summit,” in Superintendent Yvonne Curtis’ words: help us help you.
“We don’t yet know how to run a school district that can open up those pathways for these kids,” Curtis said to a room of 33 people — representatives from the district, higher education, and a variety of industries, from healthcare to power suppliers.
“But we know we have those kids with talent, passion, and expertise,” she said.
Perhaps those in the business world could offer more internships, or opportunities for mentoring or job shadowing, Curtis suggested. Audience members later discussed maybe sponsoring students or programs, and even collaborating with teachers to help connect them to the work world.
“Any way you can partner with us, we want to make it happen,” Curtis said.
The desire for more collaboration follows a growing district trend called “STEAM,” the acronym educators have coined for Science, Technology, Engineering, Applied Arts, and Math.
Better equipping students in these fields, said high school science teacher Jomae Sica to the crowd, is essential for producing more skilled workers, and thus a more competitive workforce.
“There’s more technology in our car dashboards, nowadays, then there was in the Apollo 13,” Sica said to the room. “We’re in a more technologically literate society, but we’re not keeping up.”
That’s why it’s full STEAM ahead in the district, she said. “We’re certainly upping the ante.”
The new Common Core State Standards, a more rigorous, proficiency-based formula for learning, is set to go into full effect next year, Sica pointed out. The hope is to accelerate learning in the district to make sure students graduate ready to work.
“We’ve been struggling to hire kids out of the Oregon state school system for a while now,” said Intel global accountant Annie Flatz, fresh off of a 35-hour flight from Asia.
“It takes a community,” Flatz said. “And I think the district really needs our help.”
Audience members had a variety of ideas for getting kids more career-ready. Tim Budelman, a commercial real estate broker for Norris & Stevens, suggested leveraging more support from parents to get their kids thinking about a career sooner in life. And John Hayes, a district school board member and administrator at Pacific University, emphasized the importance of teamwork in the classroom.
As far as any specific actions, Jon-Michael Kowertz of Portland Community College’s Small Business Development Center recommended the high school start an entrepreneurship program. Perhaps the district could partner up with an internet provider for growing its technological infrastructure, as suggested by Brandon Hundley, principal of Neil Armstrong Middle School.
By the summit’s end, business cards were exchanged, and many in the audience expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity to help.
Whether any substantial partnerships will result remains to be seen. “But first, it’s really about having those relationships,” Curtis said.
To see what skills business needed, “so that we can see what we need to be providing.”
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