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In the Know: Preparing students for college and career

Business students enrolled in the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) meet with their mentor at Geneva Capital in Alexandria. (Contributed)

Alexandria Public Schools is committed to empowering all students to graduate with college, career and life readiness skills.

What does that mean? College and Career Readiness means students are:

• Prepared to enroll in a post-secondary institution, be it a two-year or four-year college and do college-level coursework

• Ready for entry-level careers that offer the opportunity for advancement

As a result of being college and career ready, all students will be able to demonstrate the key characteristics identified in our Portrait of a Graduate work:

• Self-directed.

• Communication.

• Collaboration.

• Critical thinking.

• Creative thinking.

• Civically and globally engaged.

As part of our work to ensure all students are college and/or career ready when they graduate, Alexandria Public Schools has added a program called CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies). The CAPS model began in the Blue Valley School District in Kansas several years ago and is now being utilized by numerous programs and states across the country. This network of schools provide benefits for our teachers, allowing them to collaborate around curriculum and program development with school districts around the country who are doing similar work. The addition of the CAPS program has enhanced our Academies of Alexandria model at Alexandria Area High School (AAHS).

CAPS courses are an elective option for seniors at AAHS that immerse students into authentic career experiences with the help of local business partners. This experience allows students to apply their prior learning to real life situations. It is a class that lasts for approximately three hours, and for the most part, the student reports to "work" (school) at the work site of the employer with which they are partnering rather than at AAHS. Each of our three career academies — Engineering, Manufacturing Technologies and Natural Resources (EMTNR); Health Sciences and Human Services (HSHS); and Business, Communication and Entrepreneurship (BCE) — has at least one opportunity for a CAPS experience.

The CAPS EMTNR course is for students who are interested in using the skills they've acquired in EMTNR electives to complete real-world projects and solve real-world problems for area industries in the agriculture, food and natural resources, architecture and construction, manufacturing technologies, and STEM fields. Last fall, 18 students were enrolled in this course.

The CAPS Healthcare course offers students a project-based study in the area of health applications. Students participate in several field experiences and a job shadow experience to explore various career opportunities within the healthcare field. Twenty-two students were enrolled in this course fall semester; 14 are enrolled for spring semester. CAPS Teacher Education offers students a project-based study in the area of teacher education. Students had a variety of experiences in classrooms across the district including opportunities in early education, elementary school, middle school, high school and special education. Twenty-one students were enrolled in this course fall semester.

The CAPS Business and Marketing provides an emphasis on marketing business concepts. Students spend the semester applying their acquired knowledge as they engage in partner-driven projects, solving business problems and experiences the challenges of project-based work. The marketing portion will introduce concepts such as product development and promotion; collecting and using marketing information; consumer behavior; ethical and social responsibilities. Last fall, 20 students were enrolled in this course.

Several of our CAPS classes have college partners, allowing our students to earn college credit while taking these high school classes.

On Sunday, Jan. 13, 20 students will take the stage to compete for over $5,000 in scholarships. Over the past four months, these students have formed seven teams led by AAHS business teacher, Eric Hartmann. This "Shark Tank" event is sponsored by Geneva Capital and supported by several area businesses who participate in the program and mentor the student teams. This competition allows students to complete a project with real-life application while simultaneously getting exposure into Alexandria's local business world. This event is free and open to the public so all are welcome. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. with the presentation getting underway at 5 p.m. Hope to see you there!

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Julie Critz is the superintendent of Alexandria Public Schools. "In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.