Readiness coordinator readies Kearney students for real world

Paleoartist Gary Staab of Kearney, whose work has been seen on PBS and National Geographic and in the Smithsonian, is one industry leader providing real-world learning experiences to Kearney students. This school year, the Kearney district created a career readiness coordinator position to further real-world learning efforts.

KEARNEY — The Kearney School District named Beth Freeman career readiness coordinator. The position was created ahead of this school year.

New job for educator

The position will support and execute initiatives such as career exploration events, mentoring and student internships as well as higher education student activities to help further prepare students for life outside high school and for jobs that required a workforce with advanced skills.

Freeman has taught English and been the National Junior Honor Society sponsor at Kearney Junior High School for the past eight years.

“I am thrilled to begin my role as the career readiness coordinator,” Freeman stated in a district release. “I am most excited to expose students to real-world learning experiences, as I know that those will be invaluable as they reach the end of their high school careers and go out into the workforce.”

Jennifer Kopp, director of academic services for the district, said Freeman brings high energy and an intuitive understanding to the role.

“She is going to be an incredible liaison for the district as we move forward with increasing authentic learning experiences and giving our students amazing opportunities both inside and outside of the traditional school environment,” said Kopp.

Real-world learning

The position was created to help craft more immersive real-world learning opportunities for Kearney students. Current offerings include the school district agriculture program, Northland CAPS and the Learning and Exploring through Nature and Science or LENS program, where children learn about local heritage, cultures, landscapes and opportunities through study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects from area experts such as Kearney paleoartist Gary Staab of Staab Studios.

Superintendent Bill Nicely said real-world learning experiences give children a realistic look at the workforce in specific industries while teaching students valuable work skills while they are still in high school. Authentic learning experiences, he added, also give children a chance to explore career paths and learn what they are and are not interested in.

“The education one receives with a high school diploma is important stuff, but that is not, in and of itself, going to get you a quality job. … A quality job can be defined as something life-sustaining, you can live and work and raise a family on it,” Nicely said. “Increasingly, what research is showing is that if you graduate with a high school diploma plus some other valuable thing, what we’re calling a market-value asset, then you are much more likely after high school to persist through that next level of training, be that technical school, be that a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. Ultimately, if they are more likely to be successful in doing that, they are more likely to end up with a quality job. What we are talking about is a job with complicated tasks performed by a highly-skilled workforce.”

Funding for learning

In addition to the school district budgeting for funds related to authentic learning experiences, Kearney was one of three Northland school districts including Liberty and North Kansas City to receive a first round of Kauffman Foundation grants to support its efforts. Kearney received $80,000, which it will put toward Freeman’s salary. The district, Nicely said, will then fund other position needs such as professional development.

While the grant is renewable, there is no guarantee Kauffman funds will be available to the district in the future. Kearney is budgeting for the position with district funds going forward.

Nicely said the district already had a plan to create a position to further real-world learning efforts, but the grant helped make that goal a reality sooner.

“We were already heading down this pathway anyway,” he said.

Currently about 18 to 20 percent of Kearney’s students graduate with a market-value asset or added workforce skills. What the Kauffman Foundation is hoping to help districts achieve, Nicely said, is to have area districts see a 40 percent increase in those with market-value assets upon graduation within three years and 100 percent after that.

“The career readiness coordinator — the position Beth Freeman is taking — her role will be to help spread the communication out and to engage community and industry and business in our school district as to what the real-world learning effort is all about.”

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