Developing the workforce: Noblesville Schools aims to prep all students for careers after high school
By Sadie Hunter
In the past few years, Noblesville Schools has been working to get its more than 10,000 students ready for the real world by beginning career development at an earlier age, with things like career fairs in the elementary schools, a “lunch and learn” program with professionals in middle schools and a wide variety of programming at the high school – from internships and dual credit classes to adding innovative courses on advanced manufacturing, engineering and more – all in tune with the district’s project-based learning model.
“When you look systematically at Noblesville Schools, we have a plan from kindergarten all the way on through,” Noblesville High School Principal Jeff Bryant said. “This may sound kind of simple, but there’s that belief that you’re either preparing students with a high school diploma and they’re going out and doing their own thing, or you’re preparing students to be successful when they leave your doors, and those are two very different things.”
Workforce 200 is a collaboration between the city, private industries and the schools that focuses on getting kids onto a career path earlier, especially those who aren’t necessarily going to pursue a four-year degree after high school.
“They get into their apprenticeship and journeyman earlier,” said Alaina Shonkwiler, Noblesville Schools workforce development coordinator. “We’re looking at different models throughout the country. We worked with Hamilton County Economic Development Corp. to really drill down into our demographics of the schools, to find out employment by industry, salary and income, reduced and free school lunches, things like that.”
PROJECT LEAD THE WAY
One of the first high schools to implement Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit that develops science, technology engineering and math courses, Noblesville Schools also was one of the first districts in the state to implement the program district-wide, approximately three years ago. The program is available to all students, regardless of academic standing.
“Our elementary students start by taking kind of a survey course of PLTW, and then our middle schools continue, and we have a plethora of offerings at the high school,” Bryant said. “What’s been beneficial to us at the high school is once we started doing this at the elementary and middle school level, the high school (participation) numbers shot through the roof. Our high school’s PLTW courses are in engineering, design, drafting and construction, etc.”
The high school will add two new PLTW courses this school year, Digital Electronics and Engineering & Design Development.
“When you put things in students’ hands, and you have them create, program and build, those aren’t always going to work out well,” Bryant said. “There are things we’re asking students to do where, in the past in schools, if it didn’t work exactly right, then somehow you failed. Now, we’re encouraging students to take that risk.”
Approximately 275 of the high school’s nearly 3,000 students took advantage of Noblesville Schools’ internship program last school year, and approximately 80 businesses partner with the district. The program began in January 2013 with 22 students and 11 businesses.
“The internship program is kind of the culmination of all this work,” Bryant said. “A fourth-grader or fifth-grader may see something at the Hazel Dell (Elementary career fair) that peaks their interest, and in middle school they start to take some of the classes. By their junior or senior year, they can go into the internship program and see if this is something they’re really interested in instead of going to college and taking two years to figure out if that’s what they want to do.”
SHONKWILER JOINS NOBLESVILLE SCHOOLS
Noblesville Schools announced earlier this month the hiring of Noblesville’s former assistant director of Economic Development Alaina Shonkwiler as its workforce development coordinator.
The new role will enhance NHS’s workforce development efforts, including its internship program. Shonkwiler will be actively involved with business management of the internship program and will fill a void created by the retirement of former internship coordinator Susan Wiersma earlier this year.
“Alaina has a passion for workforce development and a deep understanding of business needs in Noblesville,” NHS Principal Jeff Bryant said. “She will bring a unique perspective to our internship program and other business partnership efforts that will ultimately benefit our students as they make important decisions about their future pathways.”
In her role with the City of Noblesville, Shonkwiler assisted with business attraction, retention and expansion projects; managed workforce development strategies; and served as a convener of the city side of the Workforce 200 committee.
Shonkwiler also has been named a Noblesville Main Street Board Member of the Year, Nickel Plate Arts Champion of the Year and a Noblesville Chamber Young Professional of the Year. She has a bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs Management from Indiana University and also is a graduate of the Economic Development Institute and the Hamilton County Leadership Academy.
Shonkwiler will officially begin her new role July 28.