Real World Learning in Action

Key Points

  • The Real World Learning initiative was created to address a simple, but equally complex challenge: How do you prepare students for life after high school? 

  • The traditional, go to classes, earn some credits, participate in some activities and earn a diploma wasn’t working, at least not equitably.

Kansas City

Updated August 2023

The Real World Learning initiative was created to address a simple, but equally complex challenge: How do you prepare students for life after high school? The traditional, go to classes, earn some credits, participate in some activities and earn a diploma wasn’t working, at least not equitably. High school was too prescriptive and not much fun.

Creating a new high school experience starts with innovative thinking and advocates willing to say yes. As a result of collaborations, visiting best practice sites and numerous convenings, the Kansas City region is now a hub for pathways, wall-to-wall academies, microschools, innovation academies, student-run businesses, strong client-connected project examples and more. Educational stakeholders can now go across state lines to see future-forward thinking for students.

Real World Learning attendees were recently able to tour high schools in the Kansas City area to see high-level learning in action. Participants engaged with students and teachers, toured facilities and learned about the joys and challenges happening in each district. Although each school was different, the centering message of being community focused and providing good opportunities for students resonated across the region.

Create Your Own Opportunities

Fort Osage School District, the largest school district by area in Jackson County, MO, recognized that business opportunities were limited in its rural area. As a result, the district purchased a local coffee shop that was owned by a family in the district and opened Campus Grounds. “Don’t be ahead of the students. When Susie, the Career and Technology Center Director, said what about a coffee shop, I got on the phone and called the owners. When I presented it to the board, I told them that it’s good for students, good for the community and it makes financial sense,” Jason Snodgress, Superintendent at Fort Osage School District.

Campus Grounds, part of the E-Studies program, is one of many student run businesses in the KC region. Kansas City Public Schools, Shawnee Mission, Independence School District, Raymore-Peculiar School District and others offer a host of opportunities for students to build an entrepreneurial mindset while also running an enterprise.

Districts are also creating new experiences for students by personalizing the master schedule, one student at a time. At Liberty Academy, an alternative school located in a suburb of Kansas City, student schedules are determined by one thing, what they need to make learning matter. The focus of Liberty Academy is to help students see the opportunities, make them curious and then design learning experiences to the aligned curriculum and accountability factors. “The first step is to figure out what you’re not providing kids that you should be providing kids. At Liberty Academy, it was opportunities. To make this model work, you have to take every single piece of the process apart and you have to personalize it,” Art Smith, Social Studies Teacher.

Leading to Learn

The Real World Learning tours provided students with an opportunity to lead. Focusing on the essential skills that are present in all Real World Learning experiences, students shared their thoughts on panels, gave school tours and walked attendees through their high school journey. “It is amazing how many opportunities we have at Ruskin to explore and get ahead,” Ruskin High School Student. As a result of being in leadership positions, students at Ruskin were able to articulate what comes next and most had figured out their next steps to achieve their goals.

In the Shawnee Mission School District, students led by preparing lunch for all attendees at the Broadmoor Bistro, a student-run restaurant. After lunch, students shared great stories about the Real World Learning experiences and one student even shared her business card. “The local tours are more beneficial than traveling outside the region because the connections made are actionable,” Jennifer Bauer, Blue Valley CAPS Business Development Specialist.

Additionally, the Kauffman Foundation has sponsored ProX, a Real World Learning initiative providing summer professional experiences for high school. Pro X is a 5-week paid summer internship or project supervised by a professional mentor for Kansas City youth. Students commit to 25 hours of professional experiences and learning each week. Students receive a $1,250 stipend and 1 hour of academic credit after successfully completing the program. A ProX coach supports every student through the application and placement process and during the 5-week learning and work experience. 

  Providing stakeholders the time and access to gain inspiration from their local community creates more educational prototyping for innovative student experiences. Once teachers, leaders, community members see what’s possible, the magic happens and students’ lives are transformed.

The New Pathways (#NewPathways) campaign will serve as a road map to the new architecture for American schools, where every learner, regardless of zip code, is on a pathway to productive and sustainable citizenship, high wage employment, economic mobility, and a purpose-driven life. It will also explore and guide leaders on the big education advances of this decade–how access is expanded and personalized, and how new capabilities are captured and communicated. When well implemented, these advances will unlock opportunities for all and narrow the equity gap. You can engage with this ongoing campaign using #NewPathways or submit an idea to Editor using the writing submission form.

Shawnee Caruthers

Shawnee Caruthers is the Director of Advocacy at Getting Smart and is a longtime educator with a background in marketing, journalism and advertising. She has a particular interest in CTE, words and empowering young people to control their own narrative.

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