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‘Stay in Yankton’

Educators and business leaders want career courses that prepare students for jobs in their own backyard

Published April 6, 2018
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YANKTON, SD – TruXedo, Kolberg-Pioneer, Applied Engineering Inc., and Avera Sacred Heart Hospital. What do they have in common? They’re all businesses in Yankton, SD . . . and they all have a constant need for well-educated and prepared workers, some with college degrees and many with skills certification.

Yankton School District Superintendent Dr. Wayne Kindle and other administrators and building principals recognize the long-term needs of local business and industry, and they’ve been taking steps to fill the workforce pipeline. In January 2018, the district began beta testing Pitsco Education’s newest curriculum offering, Career Expeditions, which are profiled against ACT® WorkKeys® assessments used to determine National Career Readiness Certification (NCRC®).

The carefully aligned career-based curriculum in Yankton aims to inform and prepare students for both college and careers. The district was the first location in the US to beta test the Career Expeditions, which give middle school students a head start on discovering their aptitudes and abilities based on not just hands-on experiences but also on skills and personality assessments.

The goal is simple. Give seventh and eighth graders multiple real-world experiences before they choose specific career paths at Yankton High School that help them pick the right post-secondary path – college, trade school, or direct entry into the workforce.

“Some kids are not going to go on to college. They’re not going on to four-year degrees and that type of thing, and we want them to understand and encourage them to know that going into a trade field or going to a technical school for two years and continuing to gain skills in the area they have an interest in is good and OK,” said Yankton Middle School Career Expeditions Facilitator Tiffany Beste. “If we start to provide them opportunities where they get to learn some of those skills or see some of those things now when they’re young, they’re really finding that they enjoy them immensely.”

Middle school is a perfect time to begin discerning interests through exploration, and Principal Todd Dvoracek says the Career Expeditions are the perfect vehicle to deliver a comprehensive trip. “We have a bigger picture in that career mind-set of getting kids experience, and it’s not necessarily to master. It’s to explore,” he said. “We want to focus on giving kids skills in many different areas and follow along within the CTE career cluster realm.”

SEAMLESS TRANSITION TO HIGH SCHOOL

Career preparation and employability are prominent on the radar at Yankton High School, which makes Career Expeditions a key course at the middle school; it’s so important that it is required for all students and counts as half a high school CTE credit.

“What’s the difference whether they learn it in eighth grade or whether they learn it in high school? They are still learning it,” said Beste, whose Pitsco class is titled Lifetime Career Explorations. “And why not learn it sooner so that when they get to high school, they’ve opened up some doors for themselves up there?”

Luke Youmans, who teaches the Technical Career Explorations course with Expeditions, says the Pitsco courses ensure a smoother transition into high school. “Our students go from the career exploration work at the middle school and move into various internship programs and a World of Work program at the high school. . . . The businesses in town are directly involved in our internship program and World of Work. We are exposing and then providing real-world opportunities for students to job shadow, train, and receive training and work as paid employees while they’re still students.”

LOCAL BUSINESSES BENEFIT

The Pitsco Modules program has been used at Yankton Middle School for 20 years, giving students a small taste of real-world work, but the Career Expeditions represent an upgrade to a richer and more satisfying meal, replete with critical-thinking challenges and open-ended problem-solving.

“We talk about that all the time – problem-solving, critical thinking, troubleshooting,” Beste said. “And I think the way that these programs have been designed is definitely forcing students to do more of that, which is really good. I mean they’re going to learn some things when they’re working with the robots and when they’re working with the different equipment. . . . It definitely makes them slow down, solve some problems before they’re even allowed to move forward.”

These 21st-century skills nurtured via team-based collaborative experiences translate directly to the workplace where employers are pleading for workers to possess such skills. And then there’s the ever-growing skills gap in the trades.

“Construction is crazy around here, and you can’t find enough people to plumb and to be electricians and to build houses,” Beste said. “We’ve got TruXedo, which makes the coverings for trucks, and we have Applied Engineering, which creates equipment for airplanes. Kolberg creates conveyor belts and rock-crushing equipment. . . . There are definitely students in our population that we want to have stay in Yankton and fill those jobs for us.”

“These kids aren’t settling,” she added. “They’re actually capitalizing on what their abilities allow them to do.”

“Everything fell into place with the STEM PD. I’ve been astounded by the creativity and the innovative ideas that our teachers have come up with in doing the design challenges that they’ve been given by the Pitsco facilitators.”

– Nicole Murray, district STEM coordinator, Duplin County, North Carolina

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