Life Skills Sharpened at Park Hill and North Kansas City Schools

On Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 10:49
Northland’s schools are taking reading, writing and arithmetic to a new level – one that will translate into real-world skills students can use when they go out into the work world. In late 2007, the business community compiled a list of the top 10 most valuable skills for employees, and the schools responded. The Park Hill and North Kansas City School districts are zeroing in on skills necessary for success in the working world. “I think it’s absolutely critical that every child who graduates from high school be both college ready and career ready,” says Leigh Anne Taylor Knight, assistant superintendent with North Kansas City Schools. “Students in the United States aren’t just competing with their peers across the nation, they’re competing in a global economy with students from around the world,” Knight says. Businesses big and small contributed to the list of top employability traits. They include adaptability, communication skills, cooperation/team player, customer focus, dependability, honesty/integrity, initiative, innovation and quality-focused/engagement. So how will schools impart those skills to their students? Knight says teachers will look for every opportunity to approach the fundamentals of learning in a more innovative way. She uses the example of a class learning about the Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during World War II. Rather than a straight­forward lecture, the teacher might ask students to form teams and act as lawyers, taking opposing sides on the issue of whether the government acted properly in setting up the internment camps. Each team would write a brief and argue it in front of the class. “So right in that little project, we put them in an authentic role,” Knight says. “We’ve had them do something that a real person would do, and they’ve also learned some history.” In the past, schools haven’t always given students enough real-world skills, and the business community has called them on it, she says. “Employers are still saying to us, ‘Even the kids coming out of college, they don’t have these skills,’ so we had better give them to them,” Knight adds. Her counterpart at the Park Hill School District agrees. “These employability skills are very, very important because students have to be ready to take the next step, and we want these students to be successful,” says Mark Miles, assistant super­intendent for school improvement in the Park Hill School District. Park Hill is revising its curriculum guides to identify and integrate ways of teaching employability skills at every opportunity. “I think our task is to continue to communicate to our staff members and our students the importance of these skills,” he says. Teaching kids those skills will no doubt have a positive impact on the economy in the Northland. But there are other benefits, as well, Miles says. “If you find an individual who has all these characteristics, you’re not only going to find a good employee, you’re going to find a good citizen.”