G-R students explore careers through Cedar Valley West

Pictured are G-R Superintendent Erik Smith, Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo, G-R student Casey Knaack, NAPA Auto Parts store owner Matt Sealman and G-R Principal Andy McQuillen. The group gathered at the NAPA Auto Parts store in Reinbeck on April 26 to visit with Lebo who has been touring districts around the state this spring. Photo provided

Through the past year of pandemic challenges, students at Gladbrook-Reinbeck High School have remained plugged into work based learning opportunities with the school’s partnership in the Cedar Valley West initiative.

Cedar Valley West began in 2012 as a regional career learning partnership between Hawkeye Community College and four high schools including Gladbrook-Reinbeck, Grundy Center, Aplington-Parkersburg and Dike-New Hartford.

Hawkeye Community College assists with channeling funding to be able to hire work based learning coordinators that hold regular office hours at the four schools and act as a liaison between businesses in the Cedar Valley who are available to offer internships and job shadow outings, and high school students who are working to determine which direction they may want to take their post-secondary career.

Students participate in internships for trimester increments and mostly spend one period a day at a local or regional business learning about their particular industry through hands-on experience.

For the 2020-21 school year, 12 students at Gladbrook-Reinbeck participated in internships at five local businesses including Van Hauen Auto & Truck Repair, Reinbeck Auto, Farmers Feed & Supply, Geisking Family Farms and Gladbrook-Reinbeck Elementary.

A larger number of students are connected to job shadow experiences where they will travel to a workplace for one or two days and observe the day-to-day operations of a business.

This school year 48 students went on job shadows or career events throughout area businesses in the Cedar Valley including Gladbrook-Reinbeck Schools, Farmers Feed & Supply and Reinbeck Fire Department & EMS.

Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo made a stop in Reinbeck on April 26 as part of a regional tour to observe and discuss ideas for further expanding of career learning opportunities.

Lebo visited the NAPA Auto Parts business in Reinbeck where G-R student Casey Knaack has been interning this trimester.

Cedar Valley West Work Based Learning Coordinator Stacy Ascher said one of the topics discussed with Lebo while she was in Reinbeck was an apprenticeship program offered by NAPA to help train new members into its retail workforce.

Over the past year Ascher said her programs have remained active, though some internships at places like health care centers have needed to offer virtual learning sessions rather than in-person experiences.

Ascher said some of the field trip outings she would coordinate with businesses slowed down over the last year but that in recent weeks she’s seen an uptick in employers reaching out to her to schedule events Cedar Valley West students.

In late April two Gladbrook-Reinbeck students were among a group that traveled to Grundy County REC to learn about lineworker jobs in the energy industry in rural Iowa. John Deere also reached out looking for students to attend a career fair in May, citing a downward trend in their workforce numbers.

Ascher, who has worked with Gladbrook-Reinbeck and Cedar Valley West since 2015, said she’s always held a passion for helping students to explore where they may want to take their life as an adult.

“The biggest thing for me is just providing students an opportunity to explore. Regardless if it’s a two-hour job shadow or a 100-hour internship. Sometimes they’ve come back after a job shadow and are like, ‘there’s no way I can do that.’ To me, that successful. They may not see it like that, but sometimes knowing what you don’t want to do is just as helpful as finding the thing you do want to pursue. Sometimes it bombs and it doesn’t go all that well. But that’s okay. We try to make that into a learning opportunity.”