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Jen Sigrist

Sigrist

HOLLAND — Businesses partnering with the state to provide real-world student learning opportunities are expected to boost career education for rural school districts like those served at Hawkeye Community College’s Western Outreach Center.

The recently unveiled Iowa Clearinghouse for Work-Based Learning was one focus of the visit to the center by Ryan Wise, director of the state’s Department of Education.

“Really it’s designed as a virtual space,” Wise said of the clearinghouse. Businesses, nonprofits and governmental organizations can post real-world tasks on a project board at clearinghouse.futurereadyiowa.gov that students can complete under supervision of their teachers. An inventory on the website of job shadows, internships and apprenticeships can also help teachers find other opportunities for students through local businesses.

Wise suggested it will broaden access to such learning that “for too long” has been limited for some students, especially in rural areas.

“I see it as a huge resource for me,” said Stacy Ascher, who coordinates dual high school and Hawkeye credit course offerings at the outreach center. Those are in manufacturing, health care and agricultural fields as well as liberal arts. Located in Grundy County off U.S. Highway 20 and Iowa Highway 14, the facility serves the Aplington-Parkersburg, Dike-New Hartford, Gladbrook-Reinbeck, and Grundy Center school districts.

Ascher is already organizing some work-based learning for students at the center. Freshmen in all four districts do manufacturing work site tours, where they learn about the variety of jobs at the business on and off the factory floor.

In addition, “Right now, every district requires a career class of some sort before they graduate,” she said. “Part of the curriculum is going on at least one job shadow.”

Ascher said students at the four schools do 250-300 job shadows each year and an average of 100 internships.

Such learning opportunities are valuable, noted Wise, because they can “spark interest” among young people in a way that being in a classroom does not. “One of the biggest challenges I see in too many places is a lack of student engagement,” he said.

The clearinghouse is part of the state’s Future Ready Iowa initiative, which calls for 70% of Iowans to have completed post-secondary education, career training or another job credential by 2025.

“We have a skills gap in our state,” Jen Sigrist said in a separate interview. The executive director of media and technology for Central Rivers Area Education Agency in Cedar Falls said that while 54% of jobs in Iowa require post-secondary training from certification to two- or four-year degrees, only 34% of adult residents have the needed credentials.

The clearinghouse is one part of a shift in educators’ work mandated by Future Ready Iowa, she explained. “Now we’re asking schools to kind of consider a new purpose: Are all kids ready for post-secondary options?”

They can start asking that question early with the help of the clearinghouse. Sigrist said projects posted by businesses on the website “are not just for high school seniors.” Students can work on some of the projects, which often call for a problem to be solved, starting in elementary school.

It helps to show students “just what the world of work looks like,” she said.

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