City, schools seek ways to provide more job-oriented experiences
At a joint meeting between the West Linn-Wilsonville School District and Wilsonville City Council, Superintendent Kathy Ludwig described a recent conversation she had with Wilsonville High School seniors who are set to become the first members of their families to attend college.
Though some work a part-time job and help keep their family afloat, some expressed an uneasiness about life beyond high school.
"One of the students said, 'I feel that this school district has really prepared me well for academic life. I know that whether I go to PSU or OSU, we will be really ready for the academics,'" Ludwig said. "'(But) I don't feel really ready for real life.'"
Though WL-WV ranked first in the state for its graduation rate last year, schools and City officials aspire to provide a richer experience beyond the pursuit of academic knowledge. And at the joint meeting Feb. 12, the conversation revolved around ways the district can better prepare students for life after graduation.
District officials expressed interest in providing more dual enrollment and early college courses, internships, apprenticeships and community and industry partnerships. Ludwig also suggested adding summer learning opportunities and unorthodox classes that would facilitate these ideas.
"Not only do we need to make sure that we're teaching an elevated complexity to provide rigor but we also need to make sure more and more that our curriculum and our programs have a level of relevance for high school students," Ludwig said.
Ludwig noted a recent collaboration between the Wilsonville-based automation company DWFritz and Error Code Xero, the Wilsonville Robotics team, and says she would like to initiate more interactions between employer and student.
"Now the students who are in that robotics program don't see it as a standalone unique experience, but see, 'So what would a career in coding or software engineering look like?' and 'Where else in Wilsonville is someone like me passionate and has a job in that that I can tap into?'" she said.
Councilor Scott Starr expressed a feeling that, due to the rising costs of college and the inapplicability of many degrees, students are less interested in attending college than they were decades ago. And a district survey showed that 70 percent of teens are working entrepreneurial jobs, 60 percent expect to have multiple jobs by age 30, 70 percent say they can get a good education without attending college, 66 percent still plan to attend college and 42 percent plan to work for themselves.
Starr hopes the district considers programs that help students who don't plan to attend college still prosper and would also like to see more classes that teach basic skills untethered to an academic subject or job-related skill.
"I know there's pressure on school districts to deliver numbers and output," he said. "A kid can graduate and may do calculus really well but (is) clueless on how to actually live and get along. What about learning about basic skills and surviving?"
And Ludwig suggested adding more online learning options as well.
"Shouldn't every student have the opportunity to take a course that is a blended or hybrid experience, where you can do some learning online and some brick and mortar or face-to-face check in?" she said. "The likelihood they might do something like that in college or do some sort of self-sustained learning around something online is really high."
West Linn-Wilsonville School Board Vice Chair Chelsea Martin suggested allowing students the opportunity to explore resources such as the City water intake facility and the SMART transportation system while Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp said the Oregon Institute of Technology could
be a beneficial collaborate asset.
"One of the things I've done for several years is try to attend the senior projects presentations day at OIT when each senior has to demonstrate their project and the public can come in and see what they're about," Knapp said. "I've just found myself wishing there were 50 high school students looking at what is possible and what is going on right in our own community."
Ludwig noted that the district also has to prepare students for future jobs that don't exist yet. And Knapp saw parallels with that notion and the City's conundrums in developing long-term projects that meet the needs of the ever-changing economy.
"It's an almost unanswerable question but you can't do nothing," he said. "I was struck by the way you're thinking and the way we've been thinking."