It’s the kind of innovation that’s born when we focus more on what we want to do than on what we’ve always done.
The “Aha!” answer that materializes when smart folks from around the community wrap their collective arms around a problem.
Kirkwood Community College’s partnerships with local K-12 school districts and industries to develop regional education centers, open to high school and college students alike, not only help resource-scarce K-12 districts offer a broader range of courses to their students, they help young residents get a jump on higher education and advanced training in skills that Corridor employers are looking for.
They help midcareer workers retool in order to go after better jobs. They provide local businesses with a robust pool of candidates to choose from when they hire.
And they just make sense, perhaps especially for smaller districts, and in technical instruction, which can be so expensive for comprehensive high schools to provide.
Even though skilled workers are in high demand, most school districts have scaled back or shuttered those programs — unable to keep up with the expense of equipment and supplies they’d need to keep up with quickly evolving trades.
And why should they, when we can pool resources to create a handful of state-of-the-art programs to meet the need?
Districts aren’t the only ones saving money: According to Kirkwood figures, Linn County families saved more than $960,000 in college tuition by taking advantage of the free college credit classes for high school students. Those students walked out as high school graduates with a fistful of transferable college credits or certificates vouching their qualifications for working in a trade.
The first, Jones County Regional, has been an incredible success. When the second opened last May in Linn County, high school student enrollment far exceeded expectations. Two more are in the works.
Full disclosure: I know what I’m talking about. My oldest daughter finished high school coursework a whole year early by taking Kirkwood classes. I’ve been teaching writing classes at Kirkwood as an adjunct for several years.
I teach over the KTS system — an interactive instructional television system that links all of Kirkwood’s campuses. My students are in Monticello, in Hiawatha, in Washington and Williamsburg, and a handful of other locations. We talk and work together by remote.
And why not? The principles of composition are the same if you’re 18 or 55. Still, when I first began, I worried about teaching to such a diverse group — including high school students, single mothers, men and women in midlife who wanted to switch careers.
What I found was that not only does a mixed-age classroom work, it works beautifully.
The students learn the material and they learn from each other — from their different life experiences, challenges and strengths.
And then, I realized: Where else in the world do we work with people not because we’ve got a common goal or need, but because we’ve got a common age?
Not many places. Mostly, that would be a weird and inefficient way to try to get things done.
So why do we do it in school? Well, we always have done, for starters.
Whether it’s still the best way of teaching students is another question.
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