Real World Learning ensures that students are prepared for work, school, and life after high school graduation. Crystal leads these efforts and coordinates the development and execution of market value asset attainment for Kansas City Public Schools.
What is confidence? How do you define success? How do I secure an internship or a job? What is the purpose of saving money?
These questions and more were addressed during the Life Skills Series: KCPS Edition, a real-world learning project that brought current Kansas City Public Schools students together with district alums and other local leaders, along with CommunityAmerica Credit Union.
Pre-pandemic, students made connections with adults and professionals in person. They practiced handshakes with each other, making sure they were solid. Students also heard tips and tricks for professional dress and styling their hair. When the country shut down and the jobs that could, transitioned to the virtual space, a question lingered about how students would get all of their needs met, physically, mentally, academically, and socially.
In response to the pandemic and transition to learning via webinars and Zoom calls, CommunityAmerica Credit Union developed the Life Skills Series. Their belief was simple: utilizing experts to share information with students across the Kansas City area.
Similar to the Life Skills Series that was executed during summer 2020, the goal was to have live webinars for the high school students of KCPS to hear from professionals in real-time. As with most of 2020, a pivot was necessary and the webinars were pre-recorded and links were shared with students who registered in advance. CommunityAmerica was gracious enough to offer a $25 incentive for any student who watched all four webinars.
A call was made for students to sign up to serve as Life Skills Leaders and help execute the four webinars. In addition to being able to earn the work experience market value asset, these 10 Life Skills Leaders, representing most of the district’s high schools, also earned $100 for their time. A holistic approach was taken in the evaluation of prospective Life Skills Leaders. The only prerequisites were the willingness to do the work necessary to complete the project and to collaborate with students they likely didn’t already know.
The interplay between students and adults made this experience uniquely valuable to both parties. On their exit survey, one student said:
“I like that there is a back and forth conversation with the students and adults. This information I am learning really comes in handy.”
The final event of the Life Skills Series was the Parent and Teacher Edition, a live webinar where adults were able to understand what the students took away from the experience. I had the honor of moderating a panel that included Dr. Mark Bedell, superintendent of KCPS, his wife and attorney Robyn Bedell, along with Lisa Ginter, CEO of CommunityAmerica. They are professionals and community leaders, but they are also parents, who are just as invested in their children’s future as any other parent. One of the Life Skills Leaders was invited to participate in the webinar to share her experience and it was a reminder that student voice and experience should remain at the forefront of the work that we do.
The end result of the Life Skills Series showed that over 300 students registered for the four webinars and over 200 student exit tickets were completed. 94% of students who responded said they were likely to recommend the series to a friend and 87% reported that they were satisfied with the content.
What were the lessons learned from the execution of this real-world learning project for all of the stakeholders involved?
Intentional partner engagement is critical to move real-world learning forward. One of the outlined goals of the Life Skills Series was to provide essential life skills in a new, more impactful way and I’d say, mission accomplished. Furthermore, there were frequent check-ins with the CommunityAmerica team about the project, and decisions were made in collaboration, not in a silo. Oftentimes, industry, and education don’t speak the same language, but there is much connection with topics such as confidence, money, work, and success. We collectively understood and agreed that confidence and the notion of believing in yourself transcends industry. In alignment with real-world learning and the district’s push for both college and career readiness, addressing scholarships and job interviews were equally important.
Having a plan is important; recognizing the need to shift and pivot is also important. Goals were set, a timeline was created and parameters were put in place. As with a number of plans this year, a few components had to be shifted. The first being the plan to deliver the webinars live to students. As our school district restricted student access to Zoom, we began trying to find additional platforms to deliver the webinars. We also received some feedback from teachers that this could interfere with valuable instructional time. Finally, it made the most sense to pre-record the webinars and share them with students later. They would have a week to watch each webinar before the next one would be available. Ultimately, we moved forward with the belief that it created greater flexibility for students to consume the information when they were ready.
Representation matters. One of my asks for this project was to have KCPS alums represented on the webinar panels. As a graduate myself, I understand what it means to see other people who walked the same halls as I did and to challenge the narrative that often follows graduates of the district. The alums represented multiple high schools, a range of careers, and a variety of experiences, including identifying as an undocumented student.
We can all walk away from this project, armed with lessons learned, and this quote from a student participant:
“I liked how they taught us something that we students can actually use in real life. I like it when I learn things like this because I find it very useful and no one really teaches us these types of things.”
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Crystal Everett is a Real World Learning Coordinator with the Kansas City Public Schools.
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