The Career Connected Learning Revolution

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When I met Governor Jay Inslee last month with the seventh graders from St. John School, the Governor told us that “education is the investment that will have the single biggest impact on our future.” It therefore wasn’t a surprise when I heard the Governor say yesterday that Washington is “a great state to launch a revolution in career connected learning.” He went on to outline his intention to lead the country in this effort, creating the best career connected learning (CCL) curriculum in the US. “While others are talking about it,” the Governor said, “We’ll be doing it.”

What is CCL? At its core, it’s about better connecting our education system with a rapidly changing and increasingly diverse job sector – with a focus on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education. I got a crash course in CCL and participated in discussions about how to launch this revolution at this week’s Governor’s Summit on Career Connected Learning, a statewide conference attended by nearly 1000 people from education, industry and government across dozens of locations in Washington.

Anne Nelson from the Department of Commerce recommended I attend this summit because its goals closely align with ProjectWA. Over the past year and a half, we’ve been working to connect students in the classroom with the community around them. With technology as a lure, we’ve engaged students in civics, history, economics and storytelling – helping solve real community problems in the process and hopefully better preparing these students for the 21st century workforce. With apps like Washington State Insider, St. John Explorer or the Monuments Project, these students have done real work that’s benefitting the world around them.

At the Governor’s Summit, Chris Reykdal, Washington State Superintendent, pointed out that we spend $3 billion annually on high school education, yet only 50 percent of students ever set foot on a college campus. He wasn’t necessarily implying that we need to increase that percentage. Reykdal’s point was that there are many routes to a career, and our education system needs to do a better job of providing “meaningful pathways to the world of work.”  STEM jobs don’t always require a four-year college degree.

How do we restructure our education system to create better connections and clearer paths between education and industry? The Governor has launched a CCL taskforce, and we were introduced to a policy framework for expanding learning opportunities to all young people. It focuses on developing a public-private partnership to create a career-ready education system through more training and resources, more externships, expanded CCL access to rural and underserved communities, stronger mentorship programs and helping students plan earlier for what happens after high school.

I’ve met with several innovative schools across Washington State, who are taking innovative approaches to learning and creating connections between students and the business community. College Place High School in Walla Walla County takes a project-based approach, making sure students graduate with a solid “fifth” year plan to be productive citizens in a global economy. Riverpoint Academy a STEM+Entrepreneurial high school in Spokane has students take on real-world challenges, working with professionals from the community.

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Riverpoint Academy in Spokane’s Mead School District

What impressed me most about the Governor’s Summit is that it covered both theory and action. There was a big focus on walking away with very specific actions that each individual will take to implement the new CCL framework. A summit participant at my table came up with the idea of using the 468 Field Trip platform to create a guide for students to all the STEM-related businesses in the community. We’re meeting next week to see how we can implement that plan.

I left the Governor’s Summit on Career Connected Learning inspired and even more energized to help take a new approach to education. The revolution has started. Whether you’re in education, industry or government, you can play a role in that.

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What Would You Do If You Were President?

As 52 seventh graders from St. John Catholic School lined the perimeter of his conference room in the Washington State Capitol, Governor Jay Inslee was peppered with questions. One student asked, “What would you do if you were president?”

The Governor gave a very clear and thoughtful response: “I’d focus on our biggest possibilities and our biggest threats.” The biggest possibility? Education. As the Governor sees it, “education is the investment that will have the single biggest impact on our future.” The biggest threat? Climate change. The Governor explained how the environmental changes we are causing are a threat to our very existence. He went on to tell the group about his recent visit with some Puget Sound oyster farmers. The acidity of the Sound has doubled since pre-Industrial times, and it’s on track to do so again soon, threatening an entire ecosystem, from the oysters on up to Orca whales. His answer resonated with everybody in the room.

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The St. John seventh graders’ visit with Governor Inslee was how they kicked off their four-day tour of Washington State this week.

Not all the Governor’s answers were as heavy as his discussion of education and climate change. His favorite part of the job? “Meeting with seventh graders.” Another thing he’d do as president? “Find a good National Security Advisor.” The Governor also discussed some of the 55 bills he was scheduled to sign into law today, including a law that tightens the rules about using mobile devices while driving.

Speaking of mobile devices, after a very inspirational Q&A session, a few students showed Governor Inslee the St. John Explorer app they have been populating in history class, which includes various places they plan to visit over the next several days. Upon hearing the group’s next stop is Yakima, the Governor suggested they check out the railroad bridge under which former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and hobo, William O. Douglas, used to hang out. He also suggested the students take a detour to St. John, Washington, birthplace of recently deceased Mike Lowry, the twentieth governor of Washington.

After collecting their St. John Explorer app points in the Governor’s office, the St. John seventh graders made their way to the Cherberg Building, where everybody received a civics lesson from Page School Teacher, Leo O’Leary. Here are few things we learned:

  • Washington State has the only Supreme Court in the U.S. that is majority female (6 of 9 justices).
  • Washington State has a “citizen legislature,” meaning most of our state representatives and senators have jobs outside of their legislative duties.
  • Only the first and last lines of a bill are read out loud on the floor of the legislature (we assume our representatives read the rest).
  • The lieutenant governor must first recognize a legislator (when they stand), before that legislator can speak on the floor of the legislature.

What’s interesting about this last legislative tradition is that our current Lieutenant Governor, Cyrus Habib, is blind. When he took office, a new system was put in place that alerts him, via Braille, that a legislator has requested to speak.

Based on their numerous questions, it was clear the St. John students were inspired after their day at the State Capitol. I’m sure more than a few will apply to be pages when they’re old enough (their interest level increased when they found out pages earn $35 dollars a day). For those who don’t become pages, Leo O’Leary listed several other options for students to get engaged in civic life before they are of voting age: write a letter to a legislator, volunteer to work on a campaign, or run for student government.

It was a great start to what I am sure is going to be quite an adventure across Washington State for these St. John Explorers.

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ProjectWA travels to St. John School

When Anthony Rovente and I created ProjectWA with a group of Lopez Island students in 2016, one of our long-term goals was to extend this model of education to other schools. That goal came to fruition last week when St. John Catholic School in Seattle launched their own version of ProjectWA with their 7th and 8th grade students. Using the 468 Field Trip platform, St. John has created their own app, St. John Explorer.

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In their social studies classes, the St. John 7th and 8th graders have begun the process of researching the historic locations they want to add to their app. I helped kick things off last week by telling the story of what we did on Lopez Island and showing the students how they can play a bigger role in educating others about history. The 7th graders will create content associated with their spring history trip around Washington State à la ProjectWA summer road trip. The 8th graders are focusing on the other Washington, where they plan to visit in May.

I can’t wait to see what places they decide to add to the St. John Explorer app (available on App Store and Google Play).