The Independence School District has been selected as the first in Missouri to participate in a program to help high school students experience the demands of the modern workplace, officials announced Wednesday.
The Ford Next Generation Learning Initiative, still in its planning stages here, should be ready for students to sign up next fall, officials said. Independence is the only district in Missouri or Kansas chosen to participate.
The program will establish “career academies” that will give high school students easier access to professionals already working in fields that call for strong foundations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It will be designed for students headed to college or directly into the workforce.
“When you talk to employers, there is still a skill shortage,” Carl Leiterman, a “community coach” with the initiative, said during an Independence news conference Wednesday.
Technical knowledge continues to evolve at speeds that can leave classroom instructors at a disadvantage, said district superintendent Dale Herl.
“You never want education to operate in a vacuum,” Herl said.
The initiative will allow students in the district’s three high schools to get ground-level looks at fields they are considering, Herl said. Students may be assigned mentors or allowed to be a job shadow.
ATK, which operates the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant on Independence’s eastern border, already has stepped forward to participate, Herl said.
Just how the program will be implemented within the district’s already existing curriculum will be discussed over the next six months by school board members and other district officials.
“We want to start out small,” said Herl, who added that he didn’t expect any significant upfront costs for the district.
Independence is the 18th community to be chosen since 2007, said Leiterman. In other communities, such as Nashville, Tenn., and Elk Grove, Calif., the Ford initiative has partnered with school districts. In Pensacola, Fla., it works with the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce and the University of West Florida.
“We do not go into every community,” Leiterman said, adding that the Independence district was chosen for its record of innovation and because the larger community includes leaders who enjoy a strong relationship with area businesses.