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Engaging Youth a Valuable Investment: Career Exploration and Leadership Program

Youth Career Exploration and Leadership Program at Waconda Lake

Students spent time at Waconda Lake with a Wildlife Biologist from Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

After a successful first year of the Career Exploration and Leadership Program for 7-9th grade students in Mitchell County, planning has begun for the summer 2018 program.

“We have students who enjoyed the program so much they are already asking about it for next year,” Heather Hartman, Mitchell County Community Development Director and member of the program planning committee, says.

Hartman says the program was a great way to show students career options close to home.

“Small communities need to realize how important it is to get these kids interested when they are young,” Hartman says. “We were amazed at what was accomplished with very little investment. It may seem daunting, but I encourage others to jump in and start planning.”

The Mitchell County program came about after Jeff Travis of USD 273, Eric Burks of NCK Tech, Heather Hartman, and NCRPC Director Doug McKinney attended a forum sponsored by the Kansas Department of Education in December 2016 featuring Pine Bush, New York, and their approach to career engagement and re-attraction of young persons.

The local planning committee discussed overall themes and goals for establishing a local program—the main requirement being to have “hands-on” experiences—and then hired staff to develop the content.

“We were able to hire Cris Adams of USD 273 who worked with that age of students, which was helpful because he had a feel for the types of activities that would work,” Hartman says.

Stephanie Litton, USD 273 Counselor, was also a big part of the program and served as a student guide along with Adams.

Scheduling was one of the biggest challenges in planning. Ultimately the committee decided to offer the program Monday through Thursday for three consecutive weeks in June from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students could sign up for one, two, or all three weeks.

Students explored applied agriculture, wildlife biology, food creativity, health care, business technology, graphic design, worldwide advertising, civic leadership, robotics, as well as entrepreneurship.

“We wanted to expose students to things they normally wouldn’t see,” Hartman says. “This included classes they could take right here at NCK Tech and also careers they could choose close to home.”

While youth entrepreneurship curriculum exist, Hartman says the Mitchell County program developed its own content and curriculum. Leadership was integrated into each week as well.

“We as a planning committee knew we were passionate about showing kids something new and were thankful when we had staff step up and help,” Hartman says. “Our business community was excellent and really helped out with allowing tours and speakers to interact with these students.”

The cost was $10 per week or $25 for all three weeks. Students received t-shirts and the program offered scholarships.

The Mitchell County program was made possible through local support and a small investment from the Rural Business Development Initiative (Formerly Tax Credits), which the NCRPC administers.

Requests of up to $1,000 to help support the establishment of youth summer learning/entrepreneurship programs throughout the region will be considered. Contact NCRPC Director Doug McKinney for more information about the Rural Business Development Initiative.



Summer Learning Programs an Opportunity to Engage Youth

This column from NCRPC Executive Director Doug McKinney appeared in the July 2017 NCRPC Newsletter. For newsletter archives, click here.

Youth Career Exploration and Leadership Program

Touring AGCO’s Beloit facility was one of the many experiences that participants had during the Career Exploration and Leadership Program in June.

I read recently in the Washington County News that school need not be closed for the summer. Kids can learn all year around, just in different forms in different seasons. Some planned and unique learning has been taking place with youth in Hanover, Linn and Washington this summer with green thumbs being encouraged, talents in the arts explored, and civic concepts raised. Another place where youth are being engaged and challenged is in the Solomon Valley.

Last December the Kansas Department of Education invited school districts and friends to Topeka for a forum featuring Pine Bush, New York, and their approach to career engagement and re-attraction of young persons. Jeff Travis of USD 273, Eric Burks of NCK Tech, Heather Hartman of Mitchell County Community Development and yours truly attended and then pondered the what-ifs upon traveling home. Strategies were developed in subsequent months discussing a pilot summertime career exploration and youth leadership program.

The result was a Career Exploration and Leadership Program available to incoming 7-9th grade students for nine days over the course of three weeks in June. Students learned how communities work, play and survive in rural Kansas. They explored applied agriculture, wildlife biology, food creativity, health care, business technology, graphic design, worldwide advertising, civic leadership, robotics, as well as entrepreneurship. Their heads were not in books or computers, but examining life via microscopes and safety glasses while their hands were all over tools of the various trades they encountered.

This was not a passive program. NCRPC supported this with a small gift from its modest tax credit initiative. Other support came through the school district, technical college and donations such as the local Rotary Club. A big round of applause is well deserved for student guides Cris Adams and Stephanie Litton of USD 273.

Heather Hartman, Mitchell County Community Development Director, says it was a great first year. “I know my measure of success was hearing from several students ‘Wow, I didn’t know I could do this job here,’ and ‘I just figured out what I want to do when I grow up,’ ” Hartman says.

Students are eager to explore and develop their loyalties to place. Costs need not be elaborate. NCRPC is ready and able to help you pilot a similar project in 2018. Let’s engage and try to retain bright young minds and their innovative interests.



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