There is one person in particular Kendall Beach is thankful to be working with during senior year: a Real World Learning Counselor.
“I was so excited to have someone who can help me figure all of this out, from a college application to maybe some hands-on experience in one of my interest areas,” Beach, a Shawnee Mission East student shared. “I wish Ms. Merriman was here when I was a freshman.”
Jodee Merriman is the Real World Learning (RWL) counselor for SM East Lancers. She joins four other RWL counselors across the district to support students in preparing for college and careers. This year, the Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) added the position of RWL counselor to each high school’s counseling team.
“Our strategic plan focuses on college and career readiness for all students, and these counselors will concentrate on helping students in all aspects of their future,” Dr. Michelle Hubbard, superintendent, noted.
The RWL counselors are focused on college credit and are the internal resource for RWL within each building. While many students are enrolled in Advanced Placement courses, there are many additional untapped opportunities for students. They include more than 100 free classes worth credit for high school students at Johnson County Community College (JCCC).
Earning an associate degree along with other certificates and credentials are also options for high school students at JCCC.
The Real World Learning counselors are also expanding work experience opportunities. They have been touring businesses who are offering internships such as Mission Veterinary Emergency Services and Overland Park Auto Clinic.
“Giving students experience in their career field of interest is a huge benefit for both the student and the businesses,” Erica Jablonski, RWL counselor at SM Northwest noted. “Students have an opportunity to job shadow or do an internship and if they love it, that’s great. But equally valuable, if they find out they really don’t like it, think of the time and money saved on college and they can pivot to another interest area.”
Client-connected projects also provide RWL experiences where a student or teams of students can participate in meaningful, resume-worthy work. Britt Sherer, RWL counselor and former Social Studies teacher at SM North, is working with the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Museum on a “student takeover” of the museum.
“I am excited about including our core classes in RWL opportunities, the ideas and possibilities are limitless,” Sherer said.
“We are a community resource here for the students. If they want to develop an exhibit it can provide experiences in storytelling, design, marketing, event-planning and other valuable learning skills,” Leah Palmer, curator of education at the museum shared.
Recently the RWL counselors visited the Johnson County Community College (JCCC) campus. They toured the new Fine Arts Design Studios and the Welding, Construction, Machining Technology Building. The counselors are working with liaisons at JCCC to connect students with a wide variety of courses available to high school students that support their career interests.
The school district, along with nearly 50 school districts across the greater Kansas City metro are partnering with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation on the Real World Learning initiative.
The region-wide goal is by 2030 all high school students will graduate with a diploma and a Market Value Asset (MVA). MVAs are identified as specific work opportunities or accreditations that contribute to student success in work and learning beyond graduation. MVAs include:
1. Work Experiences
Internships or Apprenticeships
2. Dual-College Credit
3. Industry-Recognized Credentials
4. Entrepreneurial Experiences
“Having a dedicated college and career counselor is already making an impact on students’ futures,” Dr. Ryan Flurry, CAA and CTE principal and CTE coordinator said. “Students have a better understanding of and equitable opportunities inside and outside the district.”