More detail comes together on middle school career gateway program

Having more student representation within the school board is a new aim for the school district. Following the guidance from the Minnesota School Board Association, Superintendent Steve Massey broached the topic at the June 3 board meeting for discussion on creating some type of avenue to involve students in the school board’s process. The board members seemed to agree that they’d like to see more student involvement, but had different ideas about what degree of involvement is appropriate or doable. 

Board member Kate Luthner was a big proponent of an avenue that allows students to sit on the board, though in a non-voting manner, in addition to a student report at the beginning of each meeting or positions on the various committees. 

“I think that while students on committees is a valuable thing to have a voice, we all know there’s a big difference between a board viewpoint and a committee viewpoint. Offering the opportunity for a student to take a place at a board table is incredibly valuable and different,” Luthner said. 

Board member Rob Rapheal voiced his concerns over having a student at the board level.

“I don’t think there’s a good way to have the student on the board with any real power other than advice,” Rapheal said. “We have to understand we’re elected to this position, and we are directly answerable to the public, and we know that and we understand that.” He also questioned whether or not students would be interested in the experience, adding that most of the work brought before the board is done in committees. 

Luthner said that the student would never be voting, that it “would be an honorary position,” she said, adding that there are “many” districts who have similar positions for students. She also noted that the board needn’t fill the position right away, but needed to create a mechanism by which a student interested could pursue the option, both as a voice to the council and as experience to someone interested.

“I think the entire process is important, and I think it will appeal to a student now and then. Not every student and not every year, but writing off past, present and future because we haven’t seen it is doing a disservice,” she said. 

Board members Jill Olson and Gail Thiesen suggested adding students to committees is a good way to start. Thiesen said that both Rapheal and Luthner made “some excellent points,” but she felt like it was “putting the cart before the horse.” Her concern was equity and making sure the students interested would have things like time and transportation to participate.

Olson said she wouldn’t be opposed to starting to craft some sort of policy or procedure, but she was concerned about student participation. 

“They’re not paid, they’re not getting any credits, so I’m having a hard time for seeing what the motivation would be,” Olson said. 

Board member Jeff Peterson had concerns over the student position on the board itself, asking what qualifications would be required of the students and how to choose between students if more than one is interested. He also had concerns over the public nature of board meetings for students. 

“When I think of the pandemic and the politics and the public outrage and all the things that transpired in this state, I would not want to be a student who then spoke up or said something in a public meeting that is recorded for posterity that maybe I regretted later in life,” Peterson said. 

As a whole, the board agreed that more student involvement is sought and began with asking Superintendent Massey to develop a set of procedures that would allow for a student report at the beginning of the month’s meeting and for students’ appointments or recommendations to committees. In addition, Peterson also directed Massey to do more research on area boards who have student participation at the board level.

Career pathways for middle school

Middle School Principal J.P. Jacobson presented to the board a more detailed outline of the new course curriculum for middle schoolers. Because of updates to the state requirements, seventh and eighth graders will now take physical education every other day, opposite their choice in an arts option, including visual arts, media arts, or a music course. 

“At the state level, we need to offer three and require two experiences in different arts areas in seventh and eighth grade,” Jacobson explained. 

Jacobson also focused on the changes to add more career pathway courses for students. Initially motivated by conversations with parents who wanted their kids to try various career-type courses, Jacobson and the development team, which included teachers, parents, and administration, created a three quarter structure for both seventh and eighth graders that would offer them more varied courses, titling them “career gateway experiences.”

In seventh grade, those three quarters include a “human services,” type course, which would be a problem-solving style course in which students are tasked with “how to enact positive change by working in teams to select and design solutions based upon empathy, understanding and innovation.” Following that, students would participate for a quarter in arts, communication, and information systems; and finally there would be a quarter in engineering, manufacturing, and technology.

Also required in seventh grade is a world language or a 21st century literature course, and a “healthy living beyond careers” course, in which students would be taught about basic money management skills, and learning how to develop healthy relationships with food and people.

In eighth grade, the career gateway experiences would include a business management and administration course, followed by a health science course, and capped off with an agriculture, food and natural resources course.

Other courses outside of the four core curriculum subjects of math, English, science and social studies would still be offered, such as media arts design, music, and other electives.

Jacobson explained that each of the courses is still being designed, but would be a more hands-on approach for students to tackle real-world lifestyles. For instance, Jacobson offered, the business course would be “a fun ‘Shark Tank’-like course, where they develop entrepreneurial skills and understandings,” he said. 

In regards to engineering, he said, “As we funnel kids into the high school, they get a sense of both the pre-engineering end of our technology department and the trades end of our technology department.”

Some of the courses being taught in eighth grade would be built upon courses taken in seventh grade, so students can get a more in-depth approach to a field if desired; other courses for eighth grade will have prerequisites, however.

“Our work is really pointed towards making sure kids have good data on which to make pathway-related decisions and careers so they know what careers they want to go into,” Jacobson said.

Hannah Davis is the Area Editor at the Forest Lake Times. You can contact her at hannah.davis@ecm-inc.com or (763)233-0709

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