Wenatchee Learns center connecting students with local businesses business mentors
It has been fascinating to watch the development of the Wenatchee Learns Connect Partnership Center, Wenatchee School District’s effort to create meaningful connections with the business community to provide hands-on learning opportunities.
Wenatchee Learns Connect is doing some very interesting community building that is paying dividends for students and businesses. Like any entrepreneurial effort, the partnership center has been evolving in the three years that it has been in place. The center is now part of the Greater Wenatchee Area Chamber of Commerce in their new space at the Metropolitan Building, formerly the Dore Building downtown.
That connection with the chamber has paid off handsomely in terms of creating access to the business community. The primary focus, Haglund told me, has been on cultivating partnerships through workplace learning such as job shadows and internships that provide students with hands-on, real-world experience. A second important success has been developing career-connected events, such as the NCW College and Career Expo which brings together 19 school districts in the region for a one-day career event. More than 3,000 students show up to rub elbows with local businesses and learn about careers in the region.
The response by the business community to getting more deeply engaged in hands-on learning has been enthusiastic, Haglund said. In the past year, more than 50 businesses have signed up to allow job shadows and internships, bringing the total to 125 firms that are willing to engage with students.
There is nothing quite so powerful as practical experience for a student who is thinking about a career allows them to get the real world experience that can help them decide if that path suits them. Haglund recalled a student last year who did a job shadow with a school district electrician and, at the end of the experience wrote a letter to his mentor that praised the electrician for the pride he took in his work.
Those peak moments inspire Haglund. She grew up in Spokane, went the University of Idaho, then worked for Eastern Washington University and Central Washington University here in Wenatchee before being recruited for the Wenatchee Learns Connect position. “What fulfills me is that opportunity when young people see a pathway — someone sees something in them that they didn’t see in themselves,” Haglund said. Kids are under a lot of pressure these days and these programs create opportunities to get out of the classroom and get some meaningful, practical experience, she said.
It’s also a great situation for businesses of all sizes. Chelan County Public Utility District, for example, has been a staunch supporter because they see the potential to train future employees for great-paying jobs as well as promoting education in the community. Those “aha” moments makes school more meaningful to them and can inspire them to buckle down and graduate, Haglund said.
The partnership center also is doing some creative things to promote technical skills for young women in the school system. The Pizza Pop and Power Tools effort lets young ladies explore welding, fabricating and other skills that might otherwise be intimidating.
The next big push, Haglund said, is developing a youth apprenticeship program that could one day have students earn and learn technical skills that Pacific Aerospace, the PUDs and agricultural companies like Stemilt are looking for.
Later this month, Wenatchee Learns Connect will get national exposure. Haglund is part of a team that has been invited back to the National Governor’s Association. The organization, Haglund said, is interested in discovering what these “learning laboratories” — providing opportunities that connect careers and schools — have in common so they can discover best practices and hopefully replicate the successes. That’s a big honor for the Wenatchee Learns Connect Partnership Center.
But the most important work being done with this endeavor is building relationships between student and businesses, Haglund pointed out. “We want our kids to think about our community differently and see opportunities that are here for them,” she said.
The school district spent a lot of time and energy engaging the community through the Wenatchee Learns effort and one of the major initiatives involved tapping into the wisdom and expertise of the whole community. It’s encouraging to see that effort succeeding and our community being strengthened.