By Corey Mohn

Eight years ago, a program launched in the heartland of America that seemed…how shall I say this…a little crazy! A school board decided to push the boundaries of traditional education: what would solve that age-old challenge in education known as “senioritis?” What would increase engagement while better preparing students not just for college, or even career, but for life?

Enter The Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), born in the Blue Valley School District in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas. At its beginning in 2009, it had no place to call home, and just over 100 early-adopter students to its name (out of a school district of more than 22,000 students). The crazy idea for these pioneering students? Fast forward them past high school and college – welcome them into a professional environment, treat them like adults and give them an authentic project in which to sink their teeth.

After a few years of learning-by-doing and failing forward, the program began taking off. The initial 100 students became 200, then 400, then 800. Initially-hesitant business partners doubled down. Project partnerships multiplied. Soon CAPS was no longer seeking out relevant work for students – the partners were reaching out to CAPS on their own. It turns out, high school students can add value – and lots of it – to the bottom line of a business. And, business leaders care a lot more than you think about developing talent pipelines for their industries.

As word began to spread across the K-12 landscape, other districts wondered if they could create a similar program to empower their students. The Blue Valley School District then had to decide if it was going to double down and go all-in. The easy decision would have been to hold cards tight in the name of protecting this unique brand of student support. Instead, CAPS kept a door open for others wanting to play.

Today, I sit in awe of a burgeoning network of school districts – more than 60 districts across nine states to date – committed to five core values:

  1. Profession-Based Learning. Instructors develop real-world, project-based learning strategies through collaborations with business and community partners. These interactions enhance the learning experience, preparing students for college and career.
  2. Professional Skills Development. Unique experiences allow students to cultivate transformative, professional skills such as understanding expectations, time management and other essential business values. These skills are critical to providing students a competitive advantage in their post-secondary education and professional careers.
  3. Self-Discovery and Exploration. Students realize their strengths and passions by exploring and experiencing potential professions. This allows them to make informed decisions about their future, while learning to exhibit leadership.
  4. Entrepreneurial Mindset. Instructors create an environment where creative thinking and problem solving is encouraged. An innovative culture is key to fostering entrepreneurial learning and design thinking.
  5. Responsiveness. CAPS supports high-skill, high-demand careers through ongoing innovation in curriculum development, programs and services based on local business and community needs.

As a network, there are things we can do together that we cannot do alone. I would liken our network to a “Do It Yourself Community” as defined in the book Bold, by Peter Diamandis: We share a “massively-transformative purpose” (MTP), we fuel ourselves with our passion for this purpose, and we connect to add value to each other via “living bridges.” As we all care so much about giving our youth the best chance to live a happy, fulfilling and prosperous life, we are willing to partner and take and share risks together in order to make an impact.

As Victor Hwang states in his book The Rainforest: “If you listen to the whole symphony, rather than the individual instruments, the music is clear.” We welcome all to open our door, try out an instrument, and feel the power of our network’s symphony.

For more, see:

Corey Mohn is the Executive Director of the Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies in Overland Park, Kansas. Follow them on Twitter at @coreymohn and @bvcaps.


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