Thompson School District educators, business leaders discuss K-8 innovation – Loveland Reporter-Herald

Educators and administrators met with local business leaders Thursday for an all day conference that sought to create more meaningful partnerships between the two groups.

Both have something the other needs: educators want more programs and opportunities for their students, and to better prepare them for life after graduation, and employers want effective workers.

Many employers across the region and the country utilize high school employees for summer or after school jobs, but this conference had a twist—only K-8 educators were present.

It’s part of what caught the eye of OtterCares, the philanthropic arm of OtterBox, the Fort Collins-based company that manufactures protective cases. OtterCares funded the conference via competitive grant process, and according to Tricia Vincent, senior programs and grants director for OtterCares, the K-8 focus made Thompson their preferred choice.

“What we know is that fairly early on in life, in their educational journey, kids start to form opinions about what they’re good at and what they’re not good at,” Vincent said. “So if we wait until they’re in high school or in college to expose them to all these different career opportunities, they’ve maybe already opted out of some of the most ideal careers for them.”

The students that these teachers work with are too young to be employed or to intern at any of the businesses that attended Thursday’s conference, but the goal is longer term, to instill in children what are sometimes referred to as “soft skills,” but what the conference organizers across the district would rather refer to as “foundational skills” — teamwork, problem solving, communication and leadership skills that are much harder to teach to adults than children.

“So often when we think about innovation and career and tech ed, and business partnerships, we’re always focused on secondary, we’re usually focused on high school students,” Thompson School District Superintendent Marc Schaffer said in a lunch address during the conference. “But one thing that you recognize, that we recognize, is that that trajectory extends all the way back into elementary school.”

After checking in and taking tours to various businesses across the city, staff from different schools sat at different tables around the Garden Room event venue in Loveland, discussing ideas for potential partnerships with businesses, examining teaching strategies and otherwise attempting to improve the way they prepare students for the wider world.

Bill Spaedt, assistant principal at Walt Clark Middle School, which hosts a considerable STEM program, said that employers often say that they can teach the specific “hard skills” required to work for them, but that the soft or “foundational” skills that are usually learned in early childhood are rarer.

“Employers want collaboration, communication,” he said. “It’s less about having these specific skills.”

He added that exposing students to different career paths early on can save lots of time, effort and money if those discoveries would otherwise be made while paying for college.

Viki Allen, human resources director for Loveland-based Vergent Products, a company that makes circuit boards and other electronics, said that making students aware of different fields is half the battle.

“It’s about building awareness,” Allen said. “Young adults don’t even know this is a thing people do.”

Concrete steps to advance these goals can include partnerships with businesses that might involve tours, guest appearances in classes or other events for younger students. Several educators said that they benefited from simply talking to business leaders and hearing their thoughts.

Part of the conference included each building’s staff preparing a pitch to present to business leaders on what potential partnerships might involve.

“I think it’s an opportunity for partnerships between schools and businesses that are authentic and not just financial,” said Valerie Lara-Black, who currently serves as the principal of Mary Blair Elementary, and will take over as principal of the new Conrad Ball PreK -8 school once a planned consolidation process is completed. “I think a lot of times we look at business partnerships as ‘what kind of money can you give us?'”

Working more collaboratively with business partners, she said is a goal that both parties can benefit from.

But how early is too early? Are kindergarteners too young to start considering career paths and “foundational skills” development? Tracy Stegall, executive director for teaching and learning at Thompson and one of the conference’s primary organizers, had an answer.

“Even in early childhood, developmentally appropriate play has, at its core, the same exact skills that the industry is looking for,” she said. “Students learn how to cooperate at the sand table in pre-K. They learn to share in the corner with blocks. They learn to resolve disagreements when talking about a simple math problem…those skills that the industry talks about are the skills we teach in third grade. The simple idea of ​​being in a community starts in prekindergarten, in a circle.”

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