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Building Bridges connects schools to community
Community input sought for career pathways
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Community members meet with educators for a Building Bridges event on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at Great Bend High School. - photo by photos by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

The sponsors of the first “Building Bridges” event extended an invitation to “basically anyone with a job” to give feedback about how schools can better prepare students to enter their field of work.
Lacy Wolters, Great Bend High School’s ACT/career coordinator, was one of the organizers of the event held Tuesday, Feb. 20, in the commons area at GBHS. It was billed as an effort to bring business/industry, economic development, workforce development and education together to identify what schools should be teaching the students to prepare them to be part of the workforce.

“We understand that the world is changing and we want to change with it and be sure our students are ready,” Wolters said. “Our goal is to prepare our students to be either college or career-ready after graduation. We really value your input. We need that input to help our students succeed.”

Tables were set up around the room to show some of the career pathways offered at GBHS. Assistant Principal Randy Wetzel, who is also director of CTE (career technical education) at GBHS, explained that for the past decade the state of Kansas has used the National Career Clusters model. There are 16 career clusters — such as agriculture, food & natural resources; arts, audio-visual technology & communication; or health science. Within the 16 clusters are more than 79 more pathways. Under the finance cluster, for example, there are pathways for accounting, banking services, business finance, insurance, and securities & investments.
“At the high school level we have 12 pathways now,” Wetzel said. A pathway has three levels: an introductory level, a technical level where the student learns some basic skills, and an application level that allows the student to experience the career.
“A pathway is just a series of classes that students take, even starting their freshman or sophomore year,” Wolters said. “Let’s say they know they want to go into an ag career; we have a series of classes they would take to help prepare them for that career.”

Community input is needed to develop more pathways and to let the educators know what needs to be taught, Wetzel said. Community members are also welcome to volunteer in several ways. They can provide job shadowing or conduct mock interviews, speak to a class or serve on an advisory council, for example.

During the breakout session, the guests went to different classrooms to meet with CTE instructors in various fields. A few students were also on hand to take notes. Discussion topics included:
• What soft skills and technical skills are necessary for students to be college and career ready?
• How do we give students hands-on experience in your field of expertise? What do these opportunities look like?
• How can we get students to say and work in Barton and surrounding counties?
The event was coordinated by Wolters, Wetzel, and GBHS JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) instructor Jennifer Hopkins; Andrea Bauer from the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development; and Tucky Allen with Kansas Workforce One.

“We are in the process of compiling the meeting notes,” Wolters said on Friday. “One common theme that appeared in almost all round-table discussions was that our students need training with soft skills. We are planning to partner with Kansas Workforce One to see what training opportunities they have available for our students. Randy Wetzel and I will also be meeting with all teachers here at the high school in March to discuss ways that soft skill training can be incorporated into all classrooms.”
The coordinators also plan to implement additional action with the community volunteers, she said.