As we look toward the future in The Region to project economic development and quality of life, we must take a look at the schools and their special position within our communities.
Indeed, the quality of the public schools is most often cited as the reason that families move into the area as well as the attraction for businesses and high-paying careers to relocate; that being said, the public schools are so much more than a long-term investment in the local economy.
They actively participate in the key relationships among the community government, businesses, and families that form the foundation for that quality of life. All components must be strong and working in harmony to achieve next-level success on behalf of the youth of our community.
Although the past two years have been filled with challenges, they have also been formative and filled with reasons for hope in the future.
At Valparaiso Community Schools’ core is a commitment to Exposure and Opportunity for our students — we want to expose our students to a world they never knew existed and provide them opportunities to explore that world.
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In Valparaiso Community Schools, the commitment to that endeavor spans all 13 grade levels. Beginning in kindergarten, students learn the essential prosocial and foundational academic skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic, but they also learn about scientific processes in their dedicated STEM class (Science Technology Engineering Math).
As with all subjects, STEM is vertically articulated to scaffold knowledge and skills as students matriculate through the grade levels. In middle school, Valparaiso students learn about design and coding while also engaging in opportunities to explore the world through history, literature, and language. At Valparaiso High School, the expansive choices include Biomedical Sciences, Engineering, Business, and Music as well as our widely renowned traditional programming in the core competencies of English, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies.
Building from those initial lessons in kindergarten, the prosocial outcomes for students extend to focus on the whole child and their place as a contributing member of society. Empathy and Altruism are lenses through which our students come to understand how living in a community such as Valparaiso brings a responsibility and opportunity to give back by helping others, beautifying landscapes, or participating in community service.
Through this whole-child approach, by addressing academic and non-academic development, schools are positioning their students to fully participate in their communities.
COLLEGE AND CAREER READINESS
Part of our initiative is to connect our students to high wage, high demand careers through education and preparation programs. Field trips, career fairs, and guest speakers from the community are wonderful exposure opportunities for our developing students to become aware of the various careers that may await them.
The curriculum then provides further exploration through a variety of initiatives and pathways. Valparaiso High School has a number of dual credit courses that students can take for concurrent college credit; in fact, Valpo students have earned over 7,500 college credits in the last three years which translates into major savings for our families!
Additionally, our Porter County Career and Technical Center (PCCTC) provides extensive training in a multitude of fields including Health Occupations, Welding, Manufacturing, and Early Childhood Education to name just a few. Many of our students exit their programs with high paying jobs waiting for them if they choose to pursue that route. By providing our students with the experiences and education necessary for the next level, we are giving them an advantage in the competitive markets of tomorrow.
No one can doubt the impact technology has had on student learning. From the first classroom computer in the 1980s to today’s 1:1 environments, technology has reshaped student access to learning and skill building.
More investments have been made in the last several years to provide advanced modalities for learning. For instance, robotics are now commonplace in the elementary levels so that students can learn coding and the soft skill benefits of problem solving and collaboration that comes with it. In the middle schools, our youth are learning the design process through CAD software as 6th graders and building robots as 8th graders.
Finally, Valparaiso High School students are leveraging 3-D technology and virtual reality to further their understanding of the world around them as well as worlds they create. Students can practice heart dissections many times with the use of 3-D software before physically performing the practice in their biomedical science class; meanwhile in another classroom, architecture students are donning their headsets to fully immerse themselves in their own building designs by experiencing perspectives and sightlines in real scale.
As a true example of technology meeting community support and career preparation in a high-wage, high-demand field, Valparaiso High School students can now complete ground school for their pilot’s license by enrolling in the Aviation Flight course which utilizes state-of-the-art flight simulators in the newly-renovated facilities on campus.
The technology for this unique opportunity comes through a grant made available by the Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission. By having community partners work together, our students benefit in a competitive global economy.
All of the above, though — the innovative programs taking place in modern facilities while leveraging advanced technologies — have de minimis value without the people who instruct as well as inspire our next generation. The investment that must be made in our PEOPLE — in our teachers and other professionals who work with our youth — is paramount to the sustained success of the community.
Graduating today with the requisite degree and certification to teach is really just the beginning for the development of a teacher. Our professionals undergo many hours of annual professional development to grow in both pedagogical knowledge and technical skills in their fields as well as in the integration of new technologies for their classrooms.
By being models for continuous improvement through lifelong learning, our teachers and staff pave the way for our students to walk the same path toward bettering themselves and the world around them throughout their lives in the Region or the world beyond.
Jim McCall is the superintendent of Valparaiso Community Schools.