Bridging the Gaps: Educator Fellows Push Education Forward

When Gideon Geisel, an assistant principal at Denver’s George Washington High School, first heard about a new fellowship program that would give him the opportunity to learn first-hand about what skills businesses need high school graduates to possess, he knew it was right up his alley.

Among Geisel’s responsibilities at his school is overseeing career programming. This includes connecting students to shadowing and internship opportunities. He had a clear understanding of what the school and his students needed from business partners. He was less clear on the flip-side: what businesses needed from educators like him. So the opportunity to participate in the America Achieves Educator Voice Fellowship for 21st Century Learning was one he wasn’t going to pass up.

The fellowship started in March and wrapped up in early December. America Achieves hopes that fellows exit the program prepared to lead their schools in developing performance tasks for students to demonstrate that as graduates they possess the skills to meet the needs of businesses struggling to find qualified employees.

Lance Hostetter, America Achieves program manager for the Colorado fellowship program, said Colorado Succeeds has played a key role in making the fellowship successful by arranging for fellows to visit Succeeds’ industry partners, including RK Mechanical, Pinnacol Assurance, and Tolmar.

Through the fellowship, school administrators like Geisel connected with business leaders in industries identified in the Colorado Talent Pipeline report as Tier 1, meaning they pay a wage that will support a family of three. Particularly eye-opening for him was hearing from a variety of businesses how few job applicants possess even the most rudimentary soft skills – communication, for example – needed to succeed in the workplace.

“We heard repeatedly that employers are prepared to teach new hires technical skills, but they’ve got to come in with the soft skills in place, and far too few people have those,” Geisel said.

Colorado’s new graduation guidelines include an option for high school seniors to present for academic credit a capstone project, an in-depth multi-faceted, academic, intellectual, and often hands-on experience for students. One aim of the fellowship is for its alumni to return to their schools and help students develop capstones that directly address the skill gaps they’ve learned about from meeting with industry representatives.

On December 7, fellows received direction on how to do just that. The session looked at how educators can play a role in “Designing the Future” and featured presentations from the fellow to panels of experts, including Sylvia Robinson, Communications and HR Manager, Tolmar and Russ Sullivan, Manager of Learning and Development, RK.

At the fellowship’s conclusion, America Achieves will share the capstone performance tasks developed by fellows with partners like Colorado Succeeds, with hopes they will share them with schools where they have ongoing relationships. Fellows will also take the information back to their schools.

Educators in the fellowship have learned a great deal from fellows from other districts, Geisel said. “Not to sound clichéd, but the opportunity to engage in this work with teachers and administrators from across Colorado is fantastic, and I am thrilled to be a part of it,” he said.

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Kelly Caufield