Across grades, the Eden Prairie School District is seeking to expand choices and help prepare students for careers after graduation.

The effort is part of the district’s Designing Pathways 10-year plan, which involves both curriculum and facility changes.

The goal is to provide more personalized learning, Superintendent Josh Swanson told the Eden Prairie School Board last month.

“We are so much closer than where we thought we might be during this time,” Swanson said of the district’s progress.

Leaders began to engage the community in the effort in 2015, said Stacie Stanley, associate superintendent of academics and innovation. They considered “what might the future look like for our students, to make certain that we can really meet our vision of inspiring students and making sure that they are able to contribute purposefully to our ever-changing world,” she said.

The visioning process resulted in a plan for more personalized learning at the elementary level, hybrid and online courses at Central Middle School – expedited due to the pandemic – and Eden Prairie High School capstone projects.

A shift in the middle school schedule is intended to expand the district’s ability to offer exploratory opportunities in elective classes. The move is also contributing to a potential shift to schedules at all district schools.

While the plan culminates at Eden Prairie High School, Stanley said, “The research says for college and career readiness that our students really need to start exploring their interests as early as second grade. We’re just really excited that we’re going to be able to give that opportunity to our kindergarteners.”

Interest surveys will help educators guide students into developing their skills at the middle school and high school.

Nicholas Kremer, the district’s director of curriculum and learning, said, “Our vision for Pathways in Eden Prairie Schools is that they’ll engage students in authentic opportunities to explore, learn about and experience potential future careers.”

Guidance on coursework and extracurricular experiences will increase in specificity and choice as students advance in their education, Kremer said. The capstone projects will allow students to apply what they have learned in practical ways within the community.

“Those students will have the flexibility to explore as many pathways as desired during their course of study,” Kremer said.

The career areas the district is focusing on include business and management; civic and social service; natural and applied sciences; engineering and technology; and communication and entertainment.

Specific careers, like marketing, government, agriculture, architecture and visual arts, are included in each category.

A 30-member committee made up of students, teachers and administrators is currently designing the INSPIRE Choice Programming Model for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The district plans to brand clubs like art, yearbook and choir and competitive events like the Math League, the LEGO Robotics League and science fairs to align with career fields that the curriculum will focus upon.

“Students can be intentional about choosing options that meet their passions and their interests,” Kremer said.

At Central Middle School, Principal Nathan Swenson said, “There’s a lot of choice for kiddos at CMS beginning next year.”

The courses at the school are being developed in collaboration with high school educators, he noted.

Currently, the school offers career exploration in grade seven, technology education in grade eight and visual art in both grades.

In the future, students in sixth through eighth grade will have a wider variety of options. For example, eighth-graders will be able to study coding and robotics. Sixth-graders can engage in a Business Bootcamp. A visual arts 3D class will be an option for sixth-graders as well.

At the high school level, presenters provided examples of classes based on the business and management career field. Such classes would include accounting, personal finance, small business development, personal and business law, fashion design and merchandising, and food fundamentals, among other options.

“Our kids are going to be acting and thinking and behaving like professionals in the field,” Eden Prairie High School Principal Robb Virgin said.

Capstone experiences would be either field-based, such as with in-depth internships, or school-based, allowing further career exploration at Eden Prairie High School. Students would collaborate with professionals in the field.

Of the field-based capstone experiences, Virgin said, “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from our partners in industry who are really jazzed about this type of option that is a more immersive type of option.”

The school-based experiences could allow students to study career options across different fields more easily.

“We don’t think that a one-size-fits-all type capstone is going to hit the mark,” Virgin said.

Reflecting on the entire effort, Stanley said, “We want our students to have a broad-based education. We want them to have as many opportunities [as possible] that can prepare them to be successful as they leave our doors.”

Board members whose terms ended at the end of 2020 praised the efforts.

“This is sort of the fruition of everything that I was hoping for,” Holly Link said.

Terri Swartout added, “This seriously is a gift that we are giving to our young people.”

Elaine Larabee in particular expressed appreciation for the continuity planned for classes at Central Middle School and Eden Prairie High School.

“That’s always been something that I’ve really always wanted to see,” she said. “We can walk away and be excited to watch it happen in our community and for our kids.”

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