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Marshalltown Schools Prepare Students for Future

Educational programs keep pipeline of talent flowing to local employers.

By Teree Caruthers on August 11, 2022

A student at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa.
Marshalltown Community College

From as early as elementary school, the Marshalltown Community School District works with local businesses to not only introduce students to local career paths but to also provide training and equip students with the necessary skills to be successful in those careers.

“I believe school districts in general are critical partners in helping to fill the employment pipelines in all aspects,” says Theron Schutte, superintendent of the Marshalltown Community School District. “In Marshalltown, we’ve been working very hard over the course of the last six years to build those relationships with local businesses and industries to learn and help our teachers learn the different types of jobs and careers that exist right here in Marshall County.”

Early Education in Marshalltown

While Iowa requires all school districts to devise individual career development plans for all students in grades 8-12, Marshalltown schools take that directive a step further to create plans for students beginning in pre-K.

Getting Schooled

The district offers a professional learning opportunity for district teachers as well as teachers in surrounding districts during which they tour regional businesses and learn about the career paths that exist in the county.

The hope, Schutte says, is that these teachers take this information back into their classrooms and create teachable moments around these in-demand career paths, such as advanced manufacturing, agriculture, architecture, construction, computer science, health sciences, hospitality and tourism.

“We make sure we have opportunities for learning and awareness at the ground level, starting in preschool and kindergarten,” Schutte says. “Then we have a scaffolded approach to making sure they continue to have substantive experiences throughout their school careers, from career fairs in middle school and business tours to internships and apprenticeships at the high school level.”

Graduation at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa
Marshalltown Community College

STEM-ulating the Curriculum

Seventh- and eighth-graders are also exposed to Project Lead the Way, a national program designed to give students hands-on STEM learning experiences.

Students are introduced to subjects, such as biomedical pre-engineering, computer science and coding, and learn how those skills can be applied in the workplace. Then in high school, students can choose to continue pursuing those interests through courses such as preengineering. A partnership with Iowa State University provides scholarships for qualifying students majoring in STEM-related fields.

High school students can earn college credit through a dual-enrollment partnership with Marshalltown Community College, and some programs, including criminal justice, fire science, EMT and construction, offer certifications that allow students to begin work in those fields immediately after graduation. Tuition and fees for the courses are paid by the district.

“Seventy to 75% of our kids are on free and reduced lunch, so money matters,” Schutte says. “We don’t want that to be a barrier to them getting as many of those college courses under their belts as they can before they graduate. And hopefully it will inspire them to continue with their college education.”

Learning by Doing

Perhaps the feather in the district’s career development and readiness cap is its Junior Achievement program, which Schutte says is one of the most comprehensive in central Iowa.

Students in grades K-8 receive curriculum experiences delivered by volunteers from local businesses centered around career readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurship. Once in high school, the focus moves toward work-based learning, and students are encouraged to get real-world experience through part-time jobs, job shadowing or summer internships and apprenticeships.

“We work with our largest employers of youth – namely the grocery stores and fast food restaurants – to develop a standardized evaluation instrument that evaluates students on those soft skills people need in the workforce,” Schutte says. “If our working students meet the evaluation proficiencies over a certain course of time, they actually receive high school credit for that work experience.”

Schutte says the district has also made sure to tailor the program to mirror Marshalltown’s socioeconomic and racial diversity, inviting local business leaders of color to participate “because we feel like it’s really important for students to see professionals of color and to see themselves represented in these fields.

“We don’t want our students to feel they’re pigeonholed to only do what their parents are doing or what their brothers and sisters are doing or what they think they’re supposed to do [for a career],” he says. “We want all our kids to dream big and work hard toward positioning themselves – with our help and support – to be able to do whatever they want to do in life.”

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