Administration of the Stillwater Area Public Schools is preparing to roll out a new way of helping high school students select elective courses, and presented their plan Nov.6 to one group of people they hope to impress — Stillwater’s business community.

Presented during the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly breakfast series “Toast and Topics” on Wednesday, Stillwater Area High School Principal Rob Bach showed business leaders a new plan in helping students get the most out of their high school experience while preparing students for a future career.

“In the past, we have done a lot of our academic top students as well as provided support for our struggling students, but we needed to do better for our academic middle students,” Bach said.

When the district transitioned to a four-year high school two years ago, Bach said that the school underwent a change in how teachers and staff looked at providing education opportunities to students.

“A 9th grade student is different than an 11th and 12th grade student,” Bach said. “We can’t continue to be the same that we were.”

About two years ago, district administrations, teachers and board members took a trip to visit the new high school built in Alexandria to see how the school partnered with the local technical college and area businesses to see how that model could be translated to the Stillwater area.

Since then, Bach said the district has met with Century College, University of Wisconsin - River Falls, University of Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas to see how the district’s elective offerings align with requirements needed to start a 4-year, 2-year or a technical post-secondary educational option.

“All four of those schools are different programs, and we have students that leave here and go on to those programs,” Bach said.

After an audit of the elective courses Stillwater Area High School already offers, a new system of organizing electives was developed called “Career Pathways.” The goals of the Career Pathways program are to enhance academic achievement for all students while providing more relevance to what students are learning, and offer more real-world opportunities. Through Pathways, students will better understand possible career options, get hands-on experience in a variety of areas, and leave high school with marketable skills and experiences.

While students will continue to fill the majority of their schedules with the required courses, a Pathway helps to link together possible electives. For example, if a student has a desire to enter a trade like plumbing in the future, a course in business could provide skills to run their own small business.

There are four current pathways outlined for students; Arts and Communication, Business, Health & Human Services and Industry & Technology. Unlike a college, students do not have to declare a pathway like a major and would be free to try courses from any pathway.

“This is nothing in addition to what students are already doing, just to make the elective selection process more user friendly,” Bach said.

Bach told Stillwater’s business community that this pathway program would not work without support from the community as it seeks to provide extracurricular options and potential school credit for job shadowing and internships. As the program progresses, Bach said they would need businesses and professionals that would be willing to volunteer for career talks and mentoring.

Many that attended said they were excited to see the high school giving more options for students to look at entering into a trade instead of a 4-year college.

Students will begin to sign up for next year’s course in December and January, with the Career Pathways program beginning in Fall 2020.

Contact Alicia Lebens at alicia.lebens@ecm-inc.com

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