The Wenatchee School District is taking bold steps to fulfill the community's vision for education that came out of the Wenatchee Learns community dialogue a few years ago.
Diana Haglund, the Wenatchee Learns coordinator, showed me around the office the district is opening in downtown Wenatchee to make it easier for volunteers and businesses to make meaningful contributions to the student learning. For businesses, that means opportunities for job shadows, internships and mentoring. For volunteers, it means finding ways to use their talents more effectively. For students, it means being able to get real-world experience during school years.
The office is located on the corner of Palouse and Mission streets and will be open this spring.
"This is business unusual" for the district, said Haglund, who came to the job after spending five years at director of Central Washington University's Wenatchee programs. Her background in development and higher education is an asset, as well as being an owner of a small business downtown — Haglund's Trophies. She's got the entrepreneurial bent that this effort requires.
The office, called "Wenatchee Learns Connect," is going to be the hub of the district's outreach to the community. It's just one piece of the whole Wenatchee Learns effort, which focuses on making education personal and relevant for students. Haglund and Mike Wilson, who was previously at Wenatchee High School, are staffing the center.
Haglund have been focused recently on streamlining the clunky process of vetting volunteers that has made working with a students a difficult proposition. An online, tablet-based solution that provides instant check-in at schools will help that process. They've also purchased Career Cruising, an online program that allows volunteers to apply online but that also provides students with a rich assortment of tools to help them identify their strengths and explore career paths.
Wilson likes to use the phrase "igniting that dream factor" to describe the goal of Wenatchee Learns Connect. Rather than education as a one-way street of feeding information to kids, the evidence suggests they learn more when they see relevance and have a greater stake in the outcome.
If kids take an ownership interest in their education, that will have a positive impact on their performance and attainment.
What will the center look like in five years? It's going to evolve and adapt as they try things and figure out what works, said Haglund. That uncertainty and the willingness of the district to adapt and evolve based on experience is a great strength. That's how the real world works these days. The world of business is adapting and changing rapidly, so our education approach should mirror that.
The office will open to the public next fall, but from the look of things, important strides are being made. The Wenatchee Learns report isn't sitting on a shelf collecting dust, that's for sure.
If you'd like to see my video interview with Haglund at the Wenatchee Learns Connect office, please log onto wenatcheeworld.com and click on videos.