Blazing the Trail to the Real World Through Extended Career Experiences

Blazing the Trail to the Real World Through Extended Career Experiences
Posted on 01/30/2017

Twenty-two students from Spencer High School are embarking on one of six Extended Career Experiences (ECE) which began with the start of second semester.  Every day, the students will be going out to worksites for three consecutive class periods throughout the entire semester. 

Career Coordinator for Spencer Community Schools, Liz Kluver, took the initiative to implement the program and does the necessary legwork to make this real-world experience available to the students.  “We are the only school in the region that offers this type of program, but it is open to schools throughout the corridor, and Okoboji and Spirit Lake have participated with us,” said Kluver.  This is the third year that Spencer has offered ECEs, and the program is growing.

In preparation, students participating in the Manufacturing, Construction, Automotive and Health Occupations ECEs are completing the 2-day, 10-hour OSHA training, which was funded by the Lakes Area Employers Council of Iowa (ECI).  Kluver, in conjunction with Mike Carlson, Lakes Area ECI Board Chair, and Bob Becker, Iowa WORKS advisor, worked jointly to bring about this opportunity for Spencer High School students, and this year’s training marks the 5th year of the collaborative effort.  Students watched videos, read, and then completed quizzes and tests after each section, and those taking the training were both thankful for the opportunity and excited to get out into the field. 

Following the completion of the OSHA training, students were ready to head out and start their hands-on experiences.  Kluver contacted several regional partners throughout the corridor to provide a comprehensive experience in each area.   

Caleb Millsap, one of three students participating in the Construction ECE, said the OSHA training taught him a lot about safety, training and how to be better prepared when out at the worksites.  Following the training, Millsap will start at Midwest Mechanical, and then will go to 3D Builders, Studer Construction and Midstates Builders.

There are two students enrolled in the Automotive ECE.  SHS senior, Dayton Peters, is anxious to get started because he is planning on going into an automotive career after high school.  He will be looking at automotive programs in the Sioux Falls area and is happy that he will start out with college credits already under his belt.  Kardell Company and Clay County Maintenance Shed are the two partners for the Automotive ECE.

Manufacturing ECE student, Alec Roskens, who also completed the OSHA training, said that he is excited to be able to do this.  “It is a great opportunity, and we get a lot of college credit for it too,” said Roskens.  Roskens, along with four other students, will start their ECE in house to up their skills in a few areas prior to heading out to Mauer Manufacturing, Tecton, Polaris, Eaton and Rosenboom. 

Hospitality, Health Sciences and Entrepreneurship round out the six ECEs.  Hospitality students are being aligned with Head Start and Days Inn, and Entrepreneurship students will spend their time at Start Up City Spencer.  Students involved with the Health Sciences ECE have a well-rounded list of regional partners, allowing for opportunities to explore many areas of the healthcare industry.

All of the ECE students are enrolled concurrently in Iowa Lakes Community College (ILCC) classes as well.  They are taking Business Communications and a Career Seminar, and there is class time built into the schedule to help complete the requirements for the additional classes.  The students are also required to blog about their experiences while at the worksite, and those blogs are linked to the school website. 

Kluver was excited to announce that she was awarded the STEM Best grant in November.  The goal of the one-time grant from the State of Iowa is to offer STEM education and establish community partners and relationships with worksites willing to engage students in real-world situations.  Grant money was used to outfit the students with proper work attire.  Items purchased included work boots, welding helmets, aprons, and gloves, safety glasses, ear protection, hard hats, safety vests, work gloves, tape measures, work belts and stethoscopes.  Additionally, students will receive mileage reimbursement because they will be driving themselves, and in some cases, they will be heading to worksites located outside of Spencer.   Kluver and three other instructors will be heavily involved in the ECEs through teaching, training opportunities and conducting on-site visits every day that students are out in the field, and the grant will cover the salary for those instructors.  Scott Rettey and Andy Brouwer, both industrial tech teachers, and Health Occupations teacher, Lisa Reiman, round out the teachers involved.

Though the third year of the program through Spencer High School, the idea to launch this sort of experience for the students has been in the works for many years.  Lakes Conference principals have held discussions with Northwest Iowa Corridor Development Corporation, Iowa WORKS (formerly Iowa Workforce Development), and ILCC for years.  From those conversations, Spencer took the initiative to make the idea a reality, and over the past year, has worked diligently to bring this opportunity to more students.  Spencer High School Principal, Elli Wiemers said, “Faculty want to make the work that we do at the high school as relevant as possible, and it is becoming more and more evident that relevance is in real, on-the-job experience, doing what the experts in the field do.”  She added, “The ECEs came about because many students meet their graduation requirements by the end of their 7th semester, and we wanted to provide an engaging opportunity.”  Originally it was thought that students must be 18 to participate in ECEs due to labor laws, but after eight solid months of trying to accurately interpret the laws, it was discovered that students can participate at age 17.  “You need the employer partners, the school district and parents to be fully in the know.  Everybody just needs to be of the same understanding.  We want our kids to do the work of experts in the field, and when so many of them are under the age of 18, it behooved us to dig and find out if this is really allowable, and it turns out that it is,” said Wiemers.  Though not having a final decision made until the week before the current ECEs were set to start, this was great news for the district because several of the seniors wanting to participate are below the 18-year-old threshold, and there is also a desire to start offering these real-world experiences for juniors too.  Wiemers added, “Though an arduous process, with the help of the Department of Education, Department of Labor, the Corridor, Iowa WORKS and ILCC, we finally scratched away enough details to learn that you can participate in many things at age 17.”  

Kluver isn’t stopping.  With students expressing new interests, she continues to blaze the trail throughout the Corridor to find new partners and opportunities for the students.  An Ag ECE will launch next year, and who knows what will follow.