Excitement Builds for Real World Learning in the SMSD

Excitement Builds for Real World Learning in the SMSD
Shawnee Mission School District

Speaking from experience, a group of Shawnee Mission students recently expressed why they hope more of their peers gain Real World Learning opportunities.

“There is so much learning you do on the spot,” Afa’anwi Akwanka’a, SM East junior, said about his Real World Learning experience. “You have to use your brain a lot because there are problems that happen you won’t see in the classroom.”

Akwanka’a joined seven SMSD Real World Learning students on a panel recently, giving an excited endorsement of what students can gain through experiences like internships and client-connected projects. They shared these experiences at a kickoff event, bringing together professionals, educators, and students to talk about how Real World Learning can build a pipeline for talent that benefits students and our community.


Real World Learning (RWL) is a Kansas City community initiative to help prepare our region, students, and employers for the future.

In a Real World Learning community, learners are prepared for work, school, and life after high school graduation. By gaining immersive experiences across a multitude of interests, industries, and employers through real-world projects and internships, learners gain the skills to navigate their future. Mutually, employers participate to help share and prepare today’s students to become the talent of tomorrow.

Shawnee Mission is preparing students for college and careers through Real World Learning in partnership with districts across the KC metro area and with support from the Kauffman Foundation. The partnership goal is that by 2030 every graduate will receive a diploma and have at least one Market Value Asset (MVA).

During the panel, students talked about their unique steps in Real World Learning and the experiences they gained. Graciela Albarran-Bautista, a senior at Shawnee Mission South, served as a teacher’s assistant in Shawnee Mission’s Summer Enrichment program, in support of her dream of becoming an English Language Learner Elementary teacher. Bautista received a reference from her Leadership SM mentor, for the application process. After winning The Next Great Idea pitch competition, Nathan Mestel, a Westridge eighth-grader is developing his business plan idea for a nonprofit focused on educating the public and repurposing food waste.

Serving on a team of Engineering students, Alyssa Jimenez recounted her experience of building a tactile map to help a student with visual impairment get ready for middle school. Jimenez and her teammate designed maps using Autodesk software and brought prototypes for the student to test. This Real World Learning project was especially meaningful to create, Jimenez shared, knowing it would have a true impact for the student as he entered a new school

“It was such a different experience because we met with the student, our client and we got to understand his needs,” she shared.

Advisory Boards Addressing Industry Needs

The panel was followed by an opportunity for educators, business partners, and students to discuss how to best prepare students for the job market in Advisory Board meetings. Each career pathway hosts advisory meetings a minimum of twice a year. They talked about what training should include and how curriculum could best address industry needs.

Bret Getzel, vice president of food service sales, Seaboard Foods attended, saying oftentimes connecting with people when they are young not only helps the student. It is often rewarding for those who offer the students the experience. “We can bring somebody in who can achieve great things and it is great to have that kind of impact on someone.”

Students in Shawnee Mission’s culinary arts program have worked with Seaboard to create a recipe to be featured on the menu of an upscale restaurant. Culinary arts instructors have expressed they look forward to more client-connected projects for students through the partnership with Seaboard.

Christ Vogel, senior talent sourcer for AdventHealth,  joined a group focused on opportunities related to medical health science. Connecting with schools serves many aspects of AdventHealth because they employ individuals with a wide variety of talents and abilities.  

“Our focus isn’t just clinical, we have many kinds of employees that includes food service, security, and technology with many different kinds of skills,” Vogel shared. “Knowing every spring through Real World Learning there could be students who would be strong candidates is helpful. This is a very valuable initiative.”

As a homebuilder, Travis Brungardt said he often finds people aren’t always aware of the types of jobs in his industry that exist. There also can be a lack of knowledge about the kind of stability and benefits jobs in his field offer. His hope is that by connecting younger students through Real World Learning, more students can find a career that would be a great long-term fit.

“This is such an opportunity to catapult students into a world of opportunity that could change lives,” he shared.

Real World Learning Counselors At Work  

In December, the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation hired a Business to Education Program Officer to develop partnerships with businesses. This year, a new group of individuals will play a role in solidifying Real World Learning connections for students across Shawnee Mission. Five Real World Learning Counselors, one in each high school, will be focused on helping students obtain MVAs and gaining immersive experiences in preparation for college and career.

“The great thing about Real World Learning is that the opportunities are endless and can be personalized to fit every students’ need from courses at the Center for Academic Achievement and Career and Technical Center, semester-long work internships, to a job shadow to a full certificate program through Johnson County Community College,” Traci Johnston, Real World Learning Counselor at Shawnee Mission South High School said.

The team of counselors will be working with students to help them be aware of possibilities and will have numerous open lines of communication to connect students to Real World Learning, Johnston shared.

Find out more about Real World Learning or connect with the Shawnee Mission School District by clicking here.