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How Cascade schools engage students to help businesses

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Some intriguing innovations are happening in North Central Washington schools that deserve our attention and support. A growing number of schools are taking the initiative to reinvent education by finding creative ways to make learning personal and relevant to students and at the same time tap into the wisdom and expertise of the community.  

This is the kind of home-grown innovation that holds great promise for success — far surpassing the micromanagement of the state Legislature or other top-down efforts that all too often fall flat and fail to achieve meaningful results. It's about taking the initiative locally by creating a new future rather than sitting back and being a victim of circumstances beyond our control.   

A perfect case in point is the Cascade School District, which will be allowing students to organize themselves into teams to help local businesses solve a pressing business challenge during the week of Nov. 11. That will coincide with a one-day strategy workshop that will involve the community, the staff and students to envision Cascade High School of the future.   

Cascade School Superintendent Steve McKenna could hardly contain his excitement when we spoke about the student consulting projects with local businesses. He sees the potential for this project to engage students in meaningful work and be a step in the process of developing an approach to education that better serves kids.   

To test the approach, the district did a trial run last summer, in which a group of students from the Future Business Leaders of America club at Cascade High School did a consulting project for Chelan County Public Utility District. Communications Manager Suzanne Hartman presented the student team with the challenge of how the district can better connect with customers more effectively.   

In the space of one day, the students identified the issues, worked together to come up with creative ideas, and used various art supplies to present their ideas. They also produced a video of the project, which is now on the web site. "They jumped right into the assignment and by the end of the day had come up with some great suggestions," according to Hartman.  

Here's a comment from a student that shows the value of this kind of experiential learning. "There were moments I thought I was going to lose my mind, ut my team and I somehow found a way to compromise every time we came across an issue or disagreement," wrote Kyla Parkins. "It was definitely a challenge, but all learning opportunities are," she added.

Working through the challenges of team dynamics on a real-life problem is an excellent way of making education relevant when paired with the opportunity to make a difference on a real-life challenge. That team of FBLA leaders is taking a leading role in the project that will involve the entire Cascade High School in November. They're using networking skills to connect with businesses in the community and elsewhere in North Central Washington that would like to be a part of the school-wide effort. That will include presenting a business challenge and letting the students create solutions.   

Innovative learning projects are happening all over the region in districts of all sizes. The Wenatchee Learns project led to a vision of education that is personal and community engaged. Manson has done a similar project and is creating its own version of education that works for kids. Supporting these efforts has been the North Central Educational Service District, where Superintendent Rich McBride has been championing home-grown innovation rather than the top-down approaches that fail to engage students.  The ESD's efforts can be tracked at

The Wenatchee World is going to support this effort by bringing a challenge to the Cascade Learns effort in November. Other businesses should volunteer to support this effort by letting students help them find creative solutions. Sign up on the Cascade Learns web site ( You can watch the student-produced video there or log onto and click on videos.