Our schools are incredible

There are some incredible things going on in our local schools.

Sure, I have my frustrations with our education system, but most of those are because of what happens at the state level and not our local level. The biggest frustration I have at the local level stems from factors outside of the school. It is the people who don’t learn the truth about school funding or other topics, and then make claims that are not accurate.

But I also have a lot of respect for many programs and people within our school system.

In particular, there are two things I want to share.

First is the project-based learning that is happening at the schools. According to pblworks.org, project-based learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem or challenge.

That definition is kind of vague, so let me share details of an experience I recently had.

The Chamber of Commerce offers itself as a resource for teachers to connect students to the business community. That can happen in a variety of ways, from job shadow opportunities to guest speakers in the classroom, or many other things.

We were asked to assist a project-based classroom (a combination of History and English for ninth-graders) in connecting groups of students with businesses.

The students set out to answer the question, “How does industry/how do businesses impact the development/growth of a community?”

They each researched a business or a historical component of the community to answer the question. We assisted in connecting students with various businesses around town. I spoke to the students to introduce them to the Chamber and economic development, and then they spent time visiting the businesses. The students prepared presentations that they presented to one another for practice and suggestions for improvement, and then gave final presentations and infographics to the businesses and their classmates.

It was an impressive project and process. What’s great about it is that the students were answering a question that is important outside just the walls of their classrooms. They were learning critical thinking skills, and learning about businesses that exist today, or that existed in the past and impacted what Alpena is today.

The second thing I want to share is the strength of the CTE (Career and Technical Education) programs.

Alpena students, and students from other districts who come to Alpena for certain classes, can learn more than the very important math, English, science, history, etc. They can learn real-life skills in career areas that are in high demand. They get hands-on experience, get to interact with the business community, and can understand the professions in a way that goes beyond reading about it, studying it, watching videos about it, or even hearing from guest speakers.

The CTE courses also incorporate more than just skills of the career. They also incorporate resume and interviewing skills, certifications like CPR or Microsoft Office, and job expectations, including the soft-skill expectations of employment.

Like the project-based learning opportunities, the CTE classes are valuable because they connect what happens inside the classroom to what I will call the real world of business and industry.

Those programs are part of a long list of other positive efforts within our schools. Efforts that don’t happen on their own. It takes creative minds willing to work within the constraints of government restrictions, rules and regulations. It takes teachers willing to think outside the box of a traditional classroom. It takes administrators willing to put in extra effort to search and write grants for funding to increase opportunities for students. It takes students willing to explore the options. And it takes parents who are willing to encourage their children to explore opportunities, even if that means they might not end up attending a traditional four or five years college.

We have a wonderful education system with some positive programs and incredible opportunities for our students. It is important that we encourage students to embrace the opportunities. To connect students with businesses is valuable, so students begin to understand what to expect when they enter the world after graduation.

I’m proud of the education we have available to our youth and believe our school administrators, staff, and faculty have done a great job, even within the constraints of regulations, to provide the very best we can.

Jackie Krawczak is president/CEO of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs biweekly on Thursdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.