As a teacher at North Side High School, a big part of Kyle Cooke’s job is preparing students for life after graduation.
“If your goal is to go to college, we’re going to get you ready for it. If it’s to go to the military, we’re going to get you ready for it. If it’s a trade school or the workforce, we’re going to get you ready for it,” Cooke says emphatically.
Last year, he participated in 3DE by Junior Achievement, a model dedicated to re-engineering high schools. The curriculum brings educators and the business community together to give students real-life experiences that help them learn essential skills like critical thinking, collaboration and communication. After seeing success at North Side and Snider, leaders at Fort Wayne Community Schools will expand the program next year into Northrop, Wayne and South Side. It initially began with freshmen, but is growing to include other grades, allowing students to build on their knowledge each year. Ultimately, all of FWCS will participate in 3DE.
“They are learning soft skills that I believe are what employers are looking for right out of the gate,” says Cooke. “If we can send our youth out into our world and our economy with these soft skills already set in place, the hard skills can be learned on the job.”
3DE was designed to re-imagine education by exposing students to professional environments, and connecting them with business leaders who can share their knowledge and open doors to opportunities they may have never considered.
“The idea is to make education relevant,” explains Pat Morello, Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana 3DE program manager. “There is such a clear, apparent message, which is to inspire students today and hire them tomorrow. It has an off-the-charts impact and there’s instant engagement.”
Morello and the national 3DE team work with local businesses to develop case studies that students then evaluate. In addition to a financial contribution, businesses commit to providing volunteers that will help coach the students. Parkview Health’s Director of Strategic Educational Partnerships Heather Schoegler says it was easier than she expected.
“The JA 3DE team is so robust and they walk you through it and make it so easy. It was actually a lot of fun for us to think through what we wanted to do and what case would make sense for them,” Schoegler says.
“3DE does all the hard stuff,” agrees Fort Wayne Metals’ Vice President of People & Strategy Evan Wood. “They put together the case in 9th grade terms. The coaching provides a development opportunity for our employees. We didn’t really anticipate that, but there was a two-way benefit in that regard.”
Ivy Tech Fort Wayne Chancellor Dr. Kim Barnett-Johnson says that’s the reason she didn’t hesitate to get involved. “I recognize the importance of making opportunities available to students at a very young age. A lot of times they have a tendency to wait until the last minute to try to figure out what they want to do, and this is just a great way for us to put some opportunities in front of them. It makes sense for us as an institution to be involved because it exposes more students to Ivy Tech and what we have to offer.”
3DE has a proven track record and long history of revolutionizing education. Launched in 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia, it moved into other states four years later. The goal is to expand into 55 schools and serve 20,000 students by 2024. The nationwide model boasts impressive statistics, including a 34% improvement in graduation rates and 42% drop in absenteeism. In Fort Wayne, educators, business leaders and Junior Achievement executives are seeing similar numbers. But most noticeable, they say, is the level of engagement they’re seeing in students.
“The soft skills or success skills that are in 3DE are game changers for this community,” says Lena Yarian, president of Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana. “Schools celebrate academic achievement. If you’re not academically excellent, you aren’t celebrated every day. But when someone says to that student, ‘You know, that’s a pretty amazing idea. I never thought about it like that,’ they are on cloud nine and they’ll look at themselves differently. When they start to look at themselves differently, they start to act differently. Their confidence goes up and it’s off the charts.”
“I had low expectations, to be honest, and their final presentations blew me away,” stresses Wood. Schoegler echoes that. “There were several times throughout this where I had to remember almost after the fact that they were high school freshmen,” she says. “I do adjunct teaching at PFW with college freshman and the presentation skills of the high school students far surpass the college students in many cases. This was the end of year one, so to think about what these kids are going to be doing after three years of JA 3DE, I can only imagine their successes.”
JA is also developing a new credentialing program in which students can prove they’ve mastered skills like cultural
agility, self-direction and creativity. That’s a bonus as they enter the workforce.
“This is the easiest thing to say ‘yes’ to as a business. The return on investment is there, no matter what you’re measuring,” says Schoegler. “Even if you’re simply looking for a way to be a community supporter, this is an amazing opportunity to invest in the future of our community.”
“I can confidently say that our kids are going to be prepared. They know what it’s like to be dependable, to work as a team, to lead a team, to follow a leader, to have deadlines, and to get up and speak in front of adults and their peers,” stresses teacher Cooke. “It’s like throwing a rock into a pond and seeing all the ripple effects.”
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