Marian College School of Education: Class Links Teachers With Business World

Fond du Lac , Wis. — Marian College School of Education graduate students are learning how they can help close Wisconsin ’s “brain drain” and prepare their own students for life after school.

The students — teachers in the Campbellsport, Fond du Lac, Lomira, North Fond du Lac, Oakfield and Rosendale–Brandon school districts — are taking the Creating Community Learning Connections class, a joint project of Marian’s School of Education Professional Development Institute and the Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce.

Besides improving how the students in the class teach, the class is intended to deal with three major issues affecting eastern Wisconsin ’s economy — students who graduate from school not completely prepared for the workforce, employers who can’t find qualified employees for open positions, and college graduates who leave Wisconsin to find the jobs they want.

“I think we’ve become much more cognizant in terms of students’ preparation needs, probably in the last 10 years,” says Sue McFarlane, the retiring North Fond du Lac School District superintendent who teaches this class and others in Marian’s School of Education . “ Fond du Lac County has a huge need for workers, and there’s going to be something like 15,000 jobs available when the Baby Boomers start to retire, and we don’t have enough students in the county to meet that need.”

“Workforce development needs to be age-appropriate and introduced in the primary grades, with it continuing into middle school, high school and beyond,” says Carrie Simon, director of educational programs for the Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce. “The activities and programming that fall under the association’s Education Committee’s umbrella encompass all levels of education and follow a sequence. … The partnership with the business community is a constant.”

Each morning the week of June 12–16, the 40 students are visiting one of 45 Fond du Lac-area businesses, from A (A to Z Vending) to W (Wal-Mart), to learn how those businesses operate, and what concepts from the business world can be taken into the elementary, middle or high school classroom. The students will end the week making presentations on how they intend to apply what they learned into their own classrooms. The businesses the students are visiting run the gamut of size from Mercury Marine to Bob and Bonnie’s Donuts.

One real-world example is the concept of tardiness. McFarlane says the businesses can provide “much more realistic real-life examples” of what happens to employees who are chronically late to work than can be found in a school setting.

Another example is leadership and teamwork in the work environment, something difficult to duplicate in a classroom. “School as we know it is built on a factory model, but factories don’t work that way anymore,” says McFarlane.

McFarlane says many parents don’t realize that their own work experience — walking into their life-long employer once they graduated from high school — is increasingly rare today.

“That message has to get out to parents — they believe the world hasn’t changed; it’s not the same world you went into out of high school,” she says.

At the same time, many teachers haven’t had a work experience out of the classroom since they graduated from college. “It’s difficult for us to provide [students] with the right mentoring without work experience” out of the school setting, she says. “The key is we have to recognize that there’s a need and then devise a strategy so that students have the real-world experience, rather than having them sit in rows and get a 45-minute lecture each day.”

One group in the class, all Fond du Lac High School science teachers, is working on creating a unit on energy use. The teachers will have their students simulate the process of siting a power plant. Another group is doing research on school and classroom rules. Another group is working on how to improve Parents’ Night presentations for the parents of special-needs children.

“Teachers need the real-world experience, and the only way to get the real-world experience is to go out and get it,” says McFarlane. “I think they’ve had some ‘ahas’ about the world of work that they wouldn’t have had. Certainly as education has changed, so has the work world.”

Marian College is a Catholic applied liberal arts college located in Fond du Lac , Wis. The college, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, offers more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs at its main campus, and a variety of adult accelerated-degree programs in facilities throughout Wisconsin . The size of the College permits a very favorable student–faculty ratio, one of the lowest among Wisconsin colleges. Marian’s academic divisions offer programs of study designed to meet a full range of pre-professional and professional academic needs. The primary divisions and programs include business, education, the arts, sciences, nursing and technology. Marian College is a community committed to learning, dedicated to service and social justice, and joined together by spiritual traditions.