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Empowering teachers (and students) through hands-on experiences

Posted by Jeremy Elwood on Aug 03, 2017

It may be the summer, but for nearly 70 teachers in the Springfield area, late June and early July wasn’t a time for vacation – it was time for additional learning and teaching experiences.

Educators from 15 area school districts participated in the third annual GO CAPS teacher externship program, held over two weeklong sessions this summer. The program pairs teachers with local businesses, to expose them to potential opportunities they can share with their students in the coming school year.

“I’m always looking for opportunities to get real world experience to take back to my classroom,” said Casteel Edwards, an agricultural education instructor at Logan-Rogersville High School. “Not only do I benefit from it, but my students benefit as well.”

Edwards was paired with longtime Springfield manufacturer Buckhorn, Inc., one of more than 40 area organizations that hosted teachers this year by providing tours, job shadowing events and informational sessions about what they can offer.

“Once we learned about the program and what it has to offer, we were eager to participate,” said Matt Byrd, HR generalist for City Utilities. “The program is a fantastic opportunity for us to discuss the skill sets we need for our jobs here with teachers who are molding our future workforce.”

Those workforce needs were the main driver for the program; companies consistently tell the Chamber that the top constraint to potential future success and growth is access to the right numbers of trained, quality workers. And that’s the main purpose of the externship program: exposing area educators to the wide array of options for their students – and what is, or isn’t, required of those looking to enter the workforce.

“We want to promote the skills necessary to be successful in manufacturing and also promote the diverse opportunities our industry affords,” said Donna Jackson of SMC Packaging Group in a post-externship survey. “This is a great way for teachers to experience firsthand what skills are necessary and valued in the workplace. It's a wonderful sample of various industries and the opportunities they may afford your students, as well.”

The teachers also were eager to learn more about how the businesses work and what they can offer to students. “I jumped at the chance to participate this summer in the program because I want to be a knowledgeable resource for the students in my building on career preparedness,” said Jill Wilson, school counselor at Cherokee Middle School, who spent her externship with JP Morgan Chase. “I came away from this more empowered with data about opportunities and expectations, as well as firsthand interviews about what is needed to be successful in their place of employment.”

For ag teacher Edwards, the hands-on experience was extremely relatable; she also noted that she’s looking forward to showing her students that a variety of options are available. “Working in manufacturing isn't for everyone, but then again neither is higher education,” Edwards said. “It solidified my perspective that students don't have to go to college to be successful.”

As for Wilson, the Cherokee counselor said she already is using the knowledge gathered from the externship to put together classroom guidance lessons that accompany her units on college and career preparedness. “I want to offer updated information on the importance of soft skills and the character traits that will prepare students for successful experiences in the workplace, no matter what career they choose,” she added. “I loved my experience this summer!”

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