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Teachers become students in GO CAPS program

Area educators learn about corporations through externships

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With the start of the next school year only a couple of weeks away, teachers Tiffany Lindley and Kelly Prude recently found themselves getting an education of their own through an externship program.

In the three days spent with City Utilities, Lindley and Prude were taken on a tour of the John Twitty Energy Center to see some of the turbines and generators in action. They walked through the huge control room lit up by monitors tracking operation of the equipment and learned about the security feed and Doppler radar to keep an eye on weather conditions.

The four-day externship is part of the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies and it’s coordinated by the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. This summer, 64 teachers from area school districts participated in two externship sessions.

The participants say it’s a lot to absorb in a short amount of time.

“It’s kind of been a tough week in the sense there has been so much to take in and everything,” said Prude, a science teacher at Kickapoo High School. “Really long days, but so much great information.”

Lindley, a seventh-grade science and health teacher at Cherokee Middle School, said the program was energizing to her work.

“There’s a lot of times I’ve had an idea for a lesson and wondered how it applies in real life,” Lindley said. “Then I’ve met someone here who can tell me several different ways. And now I can tell my students, ‘This isn’t just because I’m in a classroom and I want to teach you this. It’s because you can use this.’ That’s been fascinating for me to be able to rethink a lesson I had that I really didn’t know where to go with it.”

Making a bigger impact
So far, 233 teachers have taken part in the program since inception in 2015, comprising 29 schools in 18 school districts. This summer’s two sessions involved 19 schools in 14 districts, said Alex Greiwe, the chamber’s workforce development coordinator, now in her second year organizing the externships. A prior session was held in June.

Funded this year through a $13,542 Pathways for Teachers grant from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the program provides participating middle school and high school teachers with a $500 stipend, which Greiwe said basically covers the educators’ time during their summer break.

“Instead of having teachers begrudgingly come to this every summer, they’ve said they have a personal interest in it and have signed up on their own,” Greiwe said, noting several teachers have attended multiple externships for professional development.

In addition, House Bill 1415, recently signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson, allows educators’ professional development hours to include externships with local businesses.

While the GO CAPS program for students reaches 250-300 youth each year, Greiwe said connecting with teachers who see that same number every day in their classrooms expands on its long-term impact.

“It makes sense to work with those teachers and kind of equip them with the knowledge and understanding of the workforce landscape that they can then weave in through what they’re teaching,” she said.

Program education
In the summer, the externships run Monday through Thursday, Greiwe said, with the first morning serving as an orientation to get the teachers comfortable. It’s followed by an industry field trip where the participants split into groups, exposing them to different professional areas. A one-day follow-up winter summit is held in late January or early February to check in with the teachers to garner feedback and provide additional resources or connections.

Cox South and the Vital Farms Inc. egg processing plant were part of the first-day field trip for Lindley and Prude before they started their externship at CU.

“They’re going to spend two and a half days during the rest of the week at one company, getting a pretty in-depth understanding of what they do,” Greiwe said.

She added the chamber doesn’t dictate the program for the companies, many of which have participated multiple times.

“It’s a chance for them to showcase their culture to these teachers, because ideally, the teachers go back into their classroom as an expert on the one company they spent a couple of days with,” Greiwe said. “So then the company gets to decide what they feel is most important for that teacher to know.”

Among the experiences at CU for Lindley and Prude was traveling with Community Relations Manager Jamie Dopp to see the print shop and visiting with Transit Director Kelly Turner to see the system in action and ride a CU bus. The teachers also received tours of the main office, its gas and water operations center and the Fulbright Treatment Plant, getting a chance to learn about the many job opportunities their students could one day fill.

“Educating our teachers to help educate the students – the future leaders that are already here within Springfield – can show kids that there really are good jobs here in the community,” said Joel Alexander, communications manager for the nearly 1,000 employee municipal utility. “We’ve had nothing but great experiences with the GO CAPS program. We want to share what we know and what we have.”

Both Lindley and Prude were only vaguely aware of GO CAPS prior to the end of this past school year, but now that they have gotten a firsthand experience of the program, neither would hesitate to participate again or recommend it to other teachers.

“I would repeat it, to go to other businesses and learn more about my community,” Prude said. “I’m just elated that programs like this exist for kids.”

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