Creating opportunities for students
By Angie Landsverk
Opportunities for Waupaca High School students to get real-life experiences in the work world are increasing.
The school district calls its program “Waupaca Works.”
The program helps students explore career options through job shadows, apprenticeships and work experiences.
“Everyone is working toward a career,” said Jeff Dolski, who is is a guidance counselor at WHS.
Every school district in the state is required to have a comprehensive Academic and Career Planning (ACP) program for students in sixth through 12th grades, he said.
“This is the first full school year of ACP. We found we were already doing what the program was asking for. The stars were aligned,” Dolsi said.
He said the school district already had the framework to build on through existing partnerships with area businesses and the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce.
Working with the chamber, the district asked businesses how they could support Waupaca Works, whether through on-site tours, classroom discussions, mentoring or youth apprenticeships.
In the new Waupaca Works Cafe, students may explore career and post-secondary options, said Jen Erb, the career and technical education coordinator at WHS.
A former computer lab was transformed into the space.
Students also go there to listen to speakers, meet with representatives from colleges and interview for youth internships.
Jesse Riegert is also a guidance counselor at WHS, and he said the staff’s work with students includes talking to them about opportunities versus passions and about having realistic game plans.
They have those discussions during the conferences now taking place with every junior and senior.
“Last year, we started 100 percent junior conferences and senior conferences,” Dolski said.
During the conferences, they talk about post-graduation options, and a gap year is now among the discussion points.
For students considering a gap year after high school, the guidance counselors stress it should be about having meaningful experiences, whether that means being an exchange student or doing service work.
“The last thing we want to run off are pre-conceived notions,” Riegert said. “We want to make it what is best for each individual student.”
Dolski says students need to think about their futures as marathons, not sprints.
He noted the adolescent brain is not yet ready to make long-term decisions.
They are thinking “what’s for supper tonight, not what am I’m doing for the next 40 years,” Dolski said.
He said they are also moving toward a different philosophy of teaching.
It is about teaching with career goals in mind and applying coursework to careers to make classes relevant to students.
Waupaca Works is a brand for the community, Dolski said.
Its action statement says it is about “connecting all Comets with college, career and community opportunities.”
The school district is also interested in the needs of area businesses and designing curriculum around some of those needs.
The school’s residential build program is linking students to that field.
“We now have a two-hour block welding class articulated with Fox Valley Technical College. They take it here and get credits in welding,” Dolski said.
Also new at WHS is a robotics class.
He said that addition is due to the needs at Waupaca Foundry, as it looks at automation.
Programming I and II classes have been added at WHS as well, with students doing apprenticeships in that area.
“We’re working on Comet Manufacturing,” Riegert said.
Erb said the class will be about students fabricating and marketing items for the community.
The foundry is one of its biggest sponsors, she said.
Students will price out and purchase materials and handle all facets of business, including quality control and marketing, Erb said.
The goal is to start the program in the 2018-19 school year.
Riegert said they want to continue building partnerships with the local community.
Through Waupaca Works, the district is showing students there are opportunities here.
It is also providing skills the local workforce needs.
“We think we have the opportunity to build the best school that connects kids with the best opportunities for real life,” Dolski said. “We’re leading the way.”
He sees the school district taking the lead in creating economic development.
Businesses will want to come here when they see the experience and skills of WHS graduates, Dolski believes.
“I think the model we created can be duplicated across the state and country,” he said.
While ACP programs are geared toward middle school and high school students, Waupaca’s school district also plans to bring it to the elementary level.
At that level, it will be about being team players, leaders, cooperating, listening and about being flexible, reliable and adaptable, he said.
“All those things translate into good students as well,” Riegert said.