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Sandy Creek putting on CAPS for students

Hastings Tribune

A plan to offer a career pathways program at Sandy Creek High School has quickly morphed into a new age program where students not only take college courses but work with business professionals while still in high school.

Sandy Creek administrators had been working to build a new career center on their campus when the architects brought forward information on a new program in Kansas that allows students to learn in a profession-based learning model.

“My goal, my vision was to get a high level of experts involved,” said Superintendent Randall Gilson of student learning. “Where I’m coming from, yes it’s great to provide career opportunities but the industry and experts in those areas know it best.”

That’s when the district was introduced to the Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies, which allows students to be immersed in the professional culture, solve real world problems, use industry standards and work side-by-side with actual employers while receiving high school and college credits.

CAPS, as it is called, recently started expanding into other communities and states and already has a partnership with Westside High School in Omaha. Sandy Creek is the second Nebraska partnership for CAPS.

On Wednesday, all teachers at Sandy Creek had an opportunity to learn more about how to incorporate students and how teachers will benefit from the relationship with CAPS.

They also had the opportunity to meet with some of the industry partners in areas from agriculture to science and media to medicine who will work with students and staff through this program.

“We’ll give the kids an experience that could connect them with a future employer or at least help them to develop the skills in an area they enjoy,” Gilson told his staff. “When we went to school, you changed your mind a lot. This gives kids a chance as freshmen and sophomores to experience with pathways and then at the junior and senior level, they can really get into those jobs.”

This vision change for how the high school serves students will be undergoing its first major change likely in January when a modified block scheduling system is enacted.

The plan is for freshmen and sophomores to have three days of core classes and two days of those exploratory career classes where they will be able to work on projects and go out into the community and experience local industry.

The schedule will be flipped for juniors and seniors who will have two days of core classes and three days of these college/career classes.

A student may take only one college/career class on those days in anything from welding to business to graphics. The rest of the day would be spent immersed in their major project either working with their advising teacher or with their local business partners.

Under the CAPS program, there are five strands or areas of education for students to look into and a student has the opportunity to take classes in all content areas.

For example, a student could start his or her morning with intro to agriculture, followed by intro to manufacturing, business, welding and sociology. Each of those classes would get the student knowledge and college credits.

In fact, through partnerships mainly with Central Community College-Hastings and Wayne State College, Sandy Creek high school students have 100 credit hours worth of courses offered to them right now.

The classes are being taught by Sandy Creek teachers, many who have already obtained or are working on their master’s degrees to serve as adjunct professors through CCC.

Gilson said students have the opportunity to take high school level or college level courses in different areas based on their desires.

With the new block scheduling, Gilson said a student could easily graduate with 60-70 college credits completed. And all of those college credits are being paid for by the school district.

One benefit of the CAPS program, Gilson said, is that students don’t have to lock themselves just into manufacturing or business. A student will soon realize he or she will need knowledge in a variety of areas no matter what field he or she may want to pursue.

Part of this CAPS curriculum will require students to complete a large project. This project may be something he or she creates with the teacher or something coming from the local business partner.

After identifying the project, the student and teacher will work backwards to gain all the skills and knowledge necessary to meet the end goal.

“Sometimes it’s different skills for each kid so its a personalized model,” Gilson said. “I think that’s the exciting part. It gives teachers and students a lot of autonomy. It allows students to find themselves.”

Gilson said this new program will also change the role of teachers from stand-in-the-front-of-the-room educators to facilitators who help guide and direct students on their own paths.

During Wednesday’s in-service, teachers and business partners were able to talk about some of those relationships and how students could benefit from the partnerships.

Art and graphics teacher Crystal Hassenstab has already been building relationships with local media and even has students creating graphics for professional publications.

She said the real life application actually drives her students to work harder and take assignments much more seriously.

“When it’s important, the kids are really engaged,” Hassenstab told the business partners. “They’re like, ‘This is going to be used. This is a big deal. I need to make it great.’ That’s when they do their best work.”

One business partner Hassenstab and her students already have a relationship with is Taylor Siebert, CEO and sales director at STRIV in Henderson.

STRIV is a Nebraska-based live streaming and education-based platform helping high schools to share their story.

Siebert, who attended Tuesday’s in-service, said his company has many of the same goals as CAPS. It just focuses on the new media aspect.

Through partnering with STRIV, Hassenstab’s students can consult with their staff on their graphic advertising designs and even have some of them used on STRIV broadcasts.

“Taylor is a mentor to my students,” Hassenstab said. “With some of their projects, I told them they have to email Taylor and he gives them feedback. It’s good for them to hear it from someone else. They have me as their only art teacher so it’s good to hear someone else’s perspective.”

Siebert said he believes with the technology today’s high school students have at their fingertips they can create ads and graphics like those seen on ESPN or the Big Ten Network.

STRIV is just one of about 40 business partners the district has teamed up with to this point. Other business partners including MetalQuest of Hebron, Idea Bank, Daktroniks, Computer Hardware, Swartzendruber Construction, Heartland Concrete, Superior Agronomics, Brodstone Memorial Hospital, Cornerstone Bank and Verizon.

While the block scheduling will begin in January, the new career center on the Sandy Creek campus won’t open until April 2018. In the meantime, students will continue to take courses and complete projects in the existing facilities.

Gilson said he plans to host another in-service within the next several months to again host teachers, staff and business partners in an effort to continue the education and partnership process.

For more information about the CAPS program, contact Gilson at 402-726-2151.