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April 2, 2020

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Woodland Public Schools preparing students for life after high school

District’s focus on career, technical education comes in response to demand from parents

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:
4 Photos
Kamryn Martin, 14, left, reacts to dissecting a fetal pig with Kayalin Smith, 14, during a medical science class at Woodland High School. The class is one of the school’s career and technical education courses offered for students who are interested in a profession in the medical field. Nathan Howard/The Columbian
Kamryn Martin, 14, left, reacts to dissecting a fetal pig with Kayalin Smith, 14, during a medical science class at Woodland High School. The class is one of the school’s career and technical education courses offered for students who are interested in a profession in the medical field. Nathan Howard/The Columbian Photo Gallery

WOODLAND — Nelean Warndahl had one request for the students in her medical science class Friday at Woodland High School.

“Please place your pig carcases in the garbage can at the front of the room,” she told her class. “We had some students recently put them in a different garbage can, and that’s no good.”

It wasn’t as bad as a few years ago, when some students threw their fetal pigs in a garbage can in the hallway, where they remained overnight, enough time to fill the hallway with a rather unpleasant smell.

Students were dissecting fetal pigs after learning about body systems; a pig’s is the most similar to the human body. Students wearing protective gloves cut into their pigs, poked around their insides and moved the pigs’ mouths open and closed a few times. One student thought the pigs looked like bats.

For Woodland High School students thinking about entering the medical field, dissecting pigs is one way to get there. Medical science is one career and technical education class offered at the school. Warndahl said students learn about different career options within the medical field. They learn to read blood pressure machines, get certified in first-aid CPR, and they run two blood drives a year. Her students have gone on to work as nurses and lab technicians and go to medical school.

“It lets them say, ‘I can do this. It’s possible for me,'” she said. “It gives them the confidence they can do these jobs.”

Looking forward

The district is hoping to connect even more students to potential career paths earlier in their school experience, which Warndahl thinks would be a positive step, even if it means talking about careers in middle school.

“It not only lets them explore things they’re interested in, but gives them time if they don’t like something to try something else,” she said.

District officials are starting to put together new standards for making sure students are prepared for life after high school, something parents told the district it could improve on in recent years. Woodland Public Schools has surveyed parents every year since 2017 to gauge what they value as important to the success of their students — and how the district is doing on those topics.

Each year in the survey, the same topic has had the highest gap between what parents feel is most important and what they feel the district could improve on: preparing students for life after high school.

‘Essential work’

In this year’s parent survey, preparation for life after high school averaged out to the second most important item for the success of students, slightly behind critical thinking and problem solving and ahead of things such as writing and grammar, math and computer and technology skills.

“Those surveys reinforced that this is essential work we need to be engaged in,” Superintendent Michael Green said. “We have long determined our job is to graduate kids from high school. We think it’s bigger than that.”

At a school board workshop on Monday, Green, district staffers and the school board discussed life, college and career readiness indicators. The plan is to redefine what it means for students to be ready for life, college and careers before they graduate from the district.

Target: Life skills

Earlier this school year, Green, Assistant Superintendent Asha Riley, principals from each building and a few other staffers started researching what it means to be ready for all those things. Riley said members of the group have talked to local business owners to see what traits they’re looking for in potential employees, and what traits they aren’t seeing as much with younger employees or applicants.

“Those life skills are some of the most important,” Riley said. “To really be career ready, you need to be life ready. That means critical thinking and knowing how to collaborate with others.”

Riley said the research showed that the district already has some indicators of success for post-high school life in place, such as the ability to get college credit in high school and the ability to get professional certifications while taking a career and technical education class at Woodland High School.

Students want more

Senior Hannah Landrigan said she feels the school has good courses available, and said she got a lot out of her AP Government and AP Language and Composition classes.

Shari Conditt, the AP Government teacher, took her students on a field trip to the 3rd Congressional District forum featuring U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Democrat Carolyn Long.

“She made sure we were engaged in politics,” Landrigan, 18, said. “We were lucky it was midterms. She got us all voter registration cards, and for those of us who were 18, it was the first time we could vote.”

Landrigan has been the school board’s student representative the last two years and has been the primary student involved in the early discussions about readiness for post-high-school life. She said she’d like to see improvements in SAT preparation and financial literacy.

“You can take the PSAT here, but then you’re on your own for studying and taking the test,” she said. “The resources are very limited, and the SAT affects not just college admissions, but how much money you can get from a college.”

The school offers a financial fitness class, but Landrigan said some students take it as an alternative to math. She’d like to see that information shared elsewhere.

Landrigan was excited by the information shared at Monday’s workshop, where Green presented an early framework of some guidelines for ensuring students are ready for life after high school.

‘Life ready’ standards

According to Green’s presentation, students will be considered “life ready” if they: earn a high school diploma, complete 25 hours of community service and demonstrate knowledge of financial literacy, digital citizenship and technology literacy, healthy living and the American government through passage of a civics class with a B grade or better.

To be career ready, students should have identified a career pathway and met at least two of the following indicators: 90 percent attendance, two or more organized extracurricular activities, workplace learning experience, an industry credential, dual credit career pathway course and minimum scores on entry tests for those looking to enter the military or trade apprenticeship. To be college ready, there are options for students looking at two-year programs and those looking at four-year schools.

Green said these won’t be new graduation standards but a way for the district and students to keep track of their progress.

“This is about knowing what life, career and college ready is,” Riley said. “It’s not so much about checking off a list but having an awareness and a knowledge. Having that is huge. Some families might have a first-generation college student and might not know what it takes to not only get into college but to succeed there. We truly want our students to leave high school confidently.”

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