Schools take different tack to prepare for the future

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Harium Martin-Morris

There are rising possibilities across communities in Washington state. The economy is growing and providing new jobs. And when it comes to young people, they’re seeing opportunities before them that haven’t been there in the past.

But in order to take advantage of these prospects, today’s students need opportunities in – and the skills for – distinct and emerging industries. That means our school districts will need to offer curriculum that prepares students to successfully enter a diverse and skilled workforce.

And to do this, many districts and schools have had to push themselves to think differently. They’ve challenged the traditional educational model that has students sitting in classrooms hour after hour, day after day, focusing on one subject at a time. They need to look beyond the traditional models of lecturing and think about new ways students can actively participate in their learning. They must look ahead to the types of skills industries will require of our students in the future. Here, we must ask ourselves what can we do to better prepare our students for success?

One path that schools across the state are adopting is project-based learning. This model teaches students through real-life experience as they work alongside their peers to tackle problems cutting across multiple subject areas. For example, instead of learning about marine biology through a traditional lecture, ninth graders might build a fish laboratory from the ground up. They experience the science, math and writing first-hand while exploring their own interests, all the while getting a taste of collaborating with others as they would in a real job.

Through my decades of experience in education and working with schools throughout the state, I’ve seen how this style of teaching and learning delivers a more real-world experience to students. And many students that have been left behind in the traditional school model are positively responding to this style. Look at Yakima’s West Valley High School. Their program has collaborated with local employers to train and put students to work while they’re still in school. The program allows these businesses to fill positions they were struggling to find qualified people for, so students can obtain hands-on employment experience. It’s a win-win for students and businesses alike.

Other examples of schools changing are “Big Picture Schools” in Highline and Bellevue. In these student-centered schools, students work in and out of school under advisors using projects and internships to obtain industry knowledge and skills. Here, students are actively engaged in creating learning plans that fit their interest and goals.

This type of hands-on learning is more engaging, relevant and rewarding for students. Not only does it build confidence, it also fosters their excitement for learning and helps them see greater possibilities for their future. And it shows. Districts that employ a wider range of educational models see increases in student retention and graduation rates.

And this type of learning is going to be done in Moses Lake as the district moves forward with another high school, “Real World Academy.” Students will be given more hands-on opportunities to explore the subjects and fields they are interested in. These new educational offerings will broaden the post-graduation options for students, including college, the trades and entering the workforce. Through the addition of this second high school, the Moses Lake School District will prepare students for not only the jobs of today, but for the needs that will arise in the years to come. This educational innovation will help equip the students in Moses Lake to seize hold of the vast opportunities before them.

Harium Martin-Morris is a governor-appointed member of the Washington State Board of Education and a consultant to Moses Lake School District. He is former classroom teacher and served on the Seattle School board for eight years. In his professional career, he spent more than 17 years at the Boeing Company as a software development manager before retiring.

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