New program at Wayzata High aims to connect students with mentors from the business community

(Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)

Compass, a professional career studies program, launches this school year

Approximately 30 Wayzata High School students will be the first in a new program to help the students explore career paths while working alongside professionals in the workplace.

The program, called Compass, is intended for highly motivated juniors and seniors, organizers said. Courses are designed and taught in collaboration with community business leaders and faculty from North Hennepin and Normandale community colleges, and students enrolled in the program earn high school and college credit.

A year ago, educators in the Wayzata School District began investigating how to implement the program, the inspiration for which stems from a model launched by a school district in Overland Park, Kansas. The Center for Advanced Professional Studies, or CAPS, is a business-community-public education partnership that has served hundreds of students since its 2009 inception. Since then, CAPS has inspired dozens of school districts, including several in Minnesota, to introduce similar programs.

“We’re running two programs this year: Graphic communications in the fall and business management and economics in the spring. And my role is to find mentors for all the students in the program,” said Miriam Lejonvarn, a Wayzata High family and consumer science teacher and Compass mentor coordinator.

So far, businesses that have signed on to be a part of the program include Polaris, Toro and Medtronic.

Each student in the program will have their own mentor. For its first year, the program aims to have a total of 55 mentors. Lejonvarn said all 25 mentors have been secured for the fall semester, So far, only a few mentors have signed on for spring.

“We’ve got about three on the list, we’re hoping maybe some folks that work with us in the fall might want to do it for the second semester as well, but we do need mentors,” Lejonvarn said.

Students participating in Compass will do so during their third and fourth block and account for half their school day. For the program’s first year, the fall semester will focus on the field of graphic communications and cover areas in graphic art and screen printing. For the second semester, which will be available to seniors only, students will focus on business management and economics.

Compass Coordinator Scott Tordeur, who also teaches engineering technology and design at Wayzata High, said the program is centered around four guiding principals:

• Compass exists in a team-taught environment.

• Every student in the program gains access to college credit.

• Every student gets their own mentor.

• Utilizing involvement of the community – with business professionals and other stakeholders – to offer guest instruction with the goal of two guest instructors per week.

“At the end of the day, this ends up being so much bigger than us as teachers,” Tordeur said. “We’re involving our community, we’re involving parents, and the school board’s involved in this. So, it’s really been a very cohesive effort to get this to where it is today.”

Dawn Johnson, a Wayzata High English teacher and graphic communications teacher for Compass, said her goal for first semester students is to open their minds to a new way of learning.

“How do we take school and sort of break down the walls and involve more people in the community and more people in professions related to the content we’re teaching,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Compass could also prove beneficial for students by introducing them to industry jobs and professions.

“In our graphic communications class, we’ve got two different classes or content areas merging together, so students will see from that aspect how two teachers teaching completely different subjects connect curriculum and then the mentors act as the liaison between the business partners and the teachers,” Johnson said.

The program also encourages mentors to invite students to their workplace for firsthand, real-world experience, with business professionals acting as partners to give Compass projects for students to work on.

“It’s all about building those connections for kids,” Lejonvarn said.

Through the program, Compass organizers also hope to guide students toward making better-informed decision about their post-high school education and careers.

“I think the potential for what this could do for students is so vast and bright and promising, that we just feel this pressure to really do it right,” Johnson said.

While mentors are needed for the spring, there are other ways interested business professionals can participate in the program. Compass is in need of business partners interested in being guest instructors or providing a company project for student teams. Those interested in participating or learning more should contact Tordeur at scott.tordeur@wayzata.k12.mn.us or 763-745-6920.

Those interested in being a mentor for the spring Compass program in business management and economics can email Lejonvarn at miriam.lejonvarn@wayzata.k12.mn.us or complete a mentor match survey online at wayzata.k12.mn.us/Page/19144.

Students will get meet their mentors at a Compass kickoff event Friday, Sept. 16, at the high school.

Contact Jason Jenkins at jason.jenkins@ecm-inc.com

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