District C, a Raleigh-based after-school program co-founded by former educators, helps area students work in diverse groups with local businesses to solve real-world problems, teaching the collaboration, critical and creative thinking, and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in the future workplace, Education Week reports.
The program draws high school students from local traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools and home schools, partnering them in diverse four-person teams that are then connected with local businesses. The businesses present them with real world problems such as improving design, operations and hiring processes; better communicating ideas to customers; and measuring community impact, tasking students with developing solutions to be pitched at live community forums.
So far, 165 students have been served by District C, and the program — which is designed to allow students to practice soft skills, learn about project management, and expand their ideas and opportunities for future careers or college — plans to expand into schools through course offerings.
While schools must teach the academic basics students need to survive as functional, contributing members of society, the importance of teaching soft skills for the workplace is also increasingly recognized. Employers are looking for graduates who understand how to solve problems and collaborate with others to serve a common goal. And while these skills are often hard to measure, states are looking at ways to incorporate soft skills so students are better prepared for college and career.
While soft skills like problem-solving and collaboration can be taught to some degree in the classroom, the real-life application of these skills makes more of an impact and helps students connect with that knowledge in a stronger way. Programs like District C are helpful, but they're limited in scope and not currently available in every school district. However, schools can bring employers to schools to connect with students and share real-life scenarios through classroom experiences, projects and genius hours.
But the best way to provide these real-world experiences is by building relationships with local businesses and other organizations within the community to find ways to introduce students to these experiences in a personal and hands-on way. School-business partnerships are sometimes viewed in the light of the ways businesses can contribute to schools, but strong partnerships can also benefit businesses — especially when students reach high school.
With tech and social media skills, fresh creative approaches, and the benefit of coaches and mentors to guide their process, high school students can offer real-world solutions to employers as they gain experience and confidence and build their resumes. Along with models like the one used by District C, internships and part-time job opportunities are another popular option to provide high school students real-world experience while benefiting businesses.