The teachers and administrators for the D.C. Everest, Wausau and Spencer school districts and Northcentral Technical College are working together to create the Wisconsin Advanced Pathway Education Network. The four partners also are using money from a federal grant program called Promoting Rigorous Programs of Study, and their work could end up as a framework for school districts across the country.
Essentially, the work is meant to create an educational road map for students interested in working in factories and other manufacturing sectors, said Bob Marlowe, career and technical education coordinator for the Wausau School District. Marlowe also is coordinating the grant work. It's a four-year grant program, with each partner receiving $30,000 per year. The partnership is in the second year of the grant program.
The program eventually will guide students in what classes to take, and help educators understand the skills students need to be successful in manufacturing jobs.
Educators mostly are gathering data right now, but the work already is having an impact on classroom instruction, said Theran Peterson, a technical education teacher at Wausau West working in the program.
The educators have been working closely with local manufacturers, finding out what companies need in their employees to better prepare students for the jobs.
"What we are finding is that the students coming out of our programs are very technologically savvy, but employers say they need to work on soft skills, 21st century skills, such as teamwork, interpersonal communication," Peterson said.
That means that Peterson has tweaked the way he teaches his tech ed classes. Instead of relying on individual projects, he has started to stress teamwork and problem-solving.
"It's forcing us to align our curriculum with the needs of our community," Peterson said.
The team also is bolstering classroom innovation, including creating an application that can track student progress on mobile tablets, said Aaron Hoffman, the career and technical education coordinator at D.C. Everest Area School District.
"That way, teachers will have access to students' development, and see where students are sitting now, and be much more informed in delivering instruction," Hoffman said.
Manufacturing is a large job creator in Wisconsin, Marlowe said, and he thinks it will continue to be so in the future, especially if the future workforce is strong and smart.
There were about 443,000 manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin in December 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We have to effectively prepare students. We have to teach them to be adaptable and trainable," Marlowe said.