Perspective: Learning through business connections

Jefferson City High School teachers Joey Bryan, Shelley Smith and Lauren Winemiller have arranged a learning project in which their web design classes collaborate with local businesses to create a web page that meets their needs.

And it has met with a lot of enthusiasm.

“They’re excited,” Bryan said of the students. “We haven’t even made a web page yet and they’re ready to work with a business. It’s also some students’ first collaborative experience in a nontraditional classroom setting.”

Winemiller said the opportunity to work on something so relevant has really motivated the students.

“Students no longer ask ‘When am I going to use this?’” she said.

Indeed, when students see the purpose in the learning, it is a powerful motivator. Because the web page project is connected to actual businesses, students have approached the task with an eagerness that isn’t always seen in the classroom.

Teachers put the idea together based upon what they learned about instruction in high school academies.

Bryan said seeing other academies take on similar learning projects was “an eye-opener.”

Winemiller said she began considering such learning projects after she visited the Career for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) school in Overland Park, Kansas. “Seeing the interaction students had with real business clients was inspiring,” she said.

Karen Brickey, in her role as JCHS Business Partner Liaison, helped bring interested businesses and teachers together for this project. She is excited about the potential as well.

“In working with the businesses we were overwhelmed with the responses,” she said. “This is exciting as we transition to academies and give our students real-world experience.”

The teachers used Facebook and worked through David Luther in the JCPS School Community Relations office to compile a list of businesses interested in letting students build their web page. The response was tremendous.

Winemiller said she saw 20 emails within a few hours of the Facebook posting and Brickey said she continues to encounter interested businesses each day.

“The feedback was overwhelming,” Bryan said. “I had no idea that we could get our students interacting with this many community businesses.”

Carrie Fleig is one individual from the business community who responded. She volunteers for the Callaway Hills Animal Shelter and when she learned about the possibility of the students creating a web page for the animal shelter she was extremely interested.

Fleig described the animal shelter as being “on a month-to-month basis as far as funding is concerned.” She said having a web page would promote what they are doing, gain more involvement, and help raise money.

She met with teachers and students on Aug. 28 and began what she described as being the “liaison between the shelter and the students.”

Winemiller said that the project raises the academic expectations for students because they are not just doing something for a grade and answering to a classroom teacher. They are also accountable for providing quality work for a business owner.

In addition, the students won’t just learn the mechanics of creating a web page, but will also gain valuable experience as they work in teams and communicate with others throughout the project.

In the end, they will make a presentation of their work to the business for which they constructed the web page.

This is a long way from merely answering questions in a textbook. And a lot more meaningful.

“I’m super-excited about it,” Smith said, “because it’s pulling everything together.” She said it includes what students want in a class, collaboration opportunities, and genuine learning experiences with the business world.

Because a learning project such as this is gaining the attention of businesses, teachers, and the students, it is worth watching to see how it turns out.

It’s no surprise for teenage students to get so interested in this kind of learning; they see the relevance in what they are doing and it shows in how they approach their work.

Learning projects like these have lots of promise. And the benefits extend to everyone involved.

David Wilson, EdD, is one of the assistant principals at Jefferson City High School. You may e-mail him at david.wilson@jcschools.us.

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