What can teachers do to better prepare students for real-world jobs after graduation?

This summer, 30 teachers from Leander ISD worked to answer that question by pairing with 22 local businesses for a unique learning experience. Teachers learned what skills the businesses expect from graduates, and the businesses learned from teachers how they can help support LISD students, teachers and the community. The opportunity was provided through a new program called the Educator Career Opportunities on Location (COOL) Experience, which works to bring practical real-world skills and knowledge to the classroom.

Omar Valenzuela and Page Whalen, LISD English teachers, were paired with the LISD School and Community Relations Department. Valenzuela stated that he was able to practically apply his writing and communications skills by working on articles for the department.

“The most exciting aspect of the process was using academic English skills outside of the classroom – scheduling interviews with people, asking interesting questions, and then taking the information and turning it into a story,” Valenzuela said. “It has also been a humbling experience to be the student in the process, [instead of the teacher].”

Valenzuela said that moving forward, he will be able to use the practical skills learned during this experience as teaching tools in his classroom.

Sue King, an Algebra teacher at Vandegrift, was paired with Hang Ups, a picture-framing design company in Cedar Park. She expected math skills such as multiplication, using a ruler, and understanding angles and lengths to be important skills in building frames. What she didn’t expect was that employees needed to have strong problem-solving skills, outside of measurements and equations. The business also needs employees that have additional skills – for example, attention to detail – which may not be a part of a typical math curriculum. These were all valuable lessons that King can now take back to the classroom.

Amy Webre, a teacher from Vandegrift High School, worked with Cedar Park Clinical Director Maci Manchester at ABA Connect, a clinic that provides mental health services to children in the Greater Austin area. Webre was able to not only experience the environment her students could end up working in as board-certified behavioral analysts, but also provide insights for the clinic staff based on her experiences working with students.

Valenzuela said that the Educator COOL Experience was a worthwhile learning opportunity for the teachers who took advantage of it during their summer break.

“What do teachers do during the summer? Read all day? Adventure to Costa Rica like Indiana Jones? Sit on the couch all day and binge-watch Netflix in an attempt to recharge their minds and bodies in preparation for a challenging and rewarding school year?” Valenzuela said. “For some teachers, maybe. For others, the amazing opportunity to be part of COOL week is just one of the many ways teachers work diligently during the summer to prepare for enriching student experiences in their classrooms.”

The Educator COOL Experience initiative is funded through a grant from the Rural Capital Area Workforce Board in partnership with the Leander Chamber of Commerce. The COOL Experience program – open to all LISD students in grades 9-12 – is currently directed by Pat Lotz.

Omar Valenzuela and Paige Whalen, both LISD English teachers, worked with the School and Community Relations department as part of their Educator COOL Experience this summer.