DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds used a sold-out Future Ready Iowa Summit on Tuesday to call for expanding opportunities that Iowa students in elementary and secondary schools can use to engage in real-world, professional experiences that connect their classrooms to future careers.
“Work-based learning is a game changer. It’s like test driving a career, and I have seen it in action with our registered apprenticeship programs for high school students,” Reynolds told the daylong summit that featured a speech by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson.
Work-based learning opportunities for K-12 students have been growing across the state in recent years, Reynolds said, citing her STEM Advisory Council’s STEM BEST (Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers) program with 50 projects; the Statewide Work-Based Learning Intermediary Network run by Iowa’s community colleges; and Registered Apprenticeship programs in high schools in at least six school districts.
Reynolds also announced that the state Department of Education will develop a blueprint by the end of the year for the work-based learning experiences that should be accessible to every student. She said a virtual Iowa Clearinghouse for Work-Based Learning will launch July 1, with projects posted online by employers that educators can select to help students develop technical and soft skills.
“We know the job market is changing by the minute,” the governor said in her keynote address to nearly 1,000 attendees that included representatives from business, labor, education and nonprofit organizations, along with students, teachers, parents and elected officials from around Iowa.
“Each day, we’re sharpening Iowa’s competitive edge in education and expanding our workplace partnerships with job-ready, STEM savvy, lifelong learners,” Reynolds said. “It’s vital our students think differently and explore their options when it comes to post-secondary education, so they can be adaptable in the disruptive economy of the future.”
Reynolds praised the just-completed 2019 legislative session for approving funding for her Future Ready Iowa workforce program that aims to ensure 70 percent of Iowa workers have post-high school education or job training by 2025.
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She said Iowa is at about 58 percent, but the new funding will help support more scholarships and grants to “put young Iowans on the path to cutting-edge careers” in science, technology, engineering and math.
“We’re in a good place, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” she told summit attendees.
Jeff Weld, executive director of the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council and STEM education policy consultant for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the focus of the summit was helping schools go from “why to how” in using education to close the skills gap and diversify the workforce.
At the close of the summit, Reynolds announced that six high-poverty elementary schools have been selected to each receive $50,000 grants through the Computer Science is Elementary project. The project is designed to transform the schools into models of innovative instruction with the goal of creating opportunities for students and a statewide network of computer science expertise. The schools are in the Denison, Marshalltown, Postville, East Union, Perry and Fort Madison school districts.
Thirty schools applied for the awards. The six schools selected to receive the $50,000 planning grants will implement their programs no later than the 2020-21 school year with regular school funding.
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