Educators aim to build skills for future

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If Colorado wants a place in the growing global economy, then its education system must deliver the skills needed for students to succeed as 21st-century citizens.

The problem, according to a three-district panel of educators hosted by the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce on April 19, is that local schools are trying to ready kids for jobs that are yet to exist.

“The reality is, our students will compete with students from around the world for the most sought-after opportunities and that’s something of a newer thing in education,” explained Elizabeth Fagen, Douglas County School District superintendent. “It’s definitely different than when we started back in the industrial revolution.”

Along with the economy, Fagen said the kids, themselves, are different.

“These kids have never known anything that wasn’t the 21st century, and they’ve also never known a world without technology,” she said.

Along with Scott Murphy, Littleton superintendent of schools, and Eric Flor, assistant superintendent for Cherry Creek Schools, Fagen offered an overview of how schools hope to engage business and industry as future partners.

Strong partnerships between schools and business innovators may be the key to developing a winning curriculum — a curriculum that’s rich in technology, collaboration, creativity and shared economic success.

“It’s not about bricks and mortar,” said Flor. “It’s about what experiences are children getting — starting in kindergarten all the way through — that prepare them to be engineers, or whatever it is they want to be.”

Panel moderator Lisa D’Ambrosia said education has long been one of the chamber’s prime initiatives. She sees a strong connection between academia and the coming economy.

Schools are now looking to the business community and asking it to help define what the future workforce should look like.

So, what it is kids need to know to be successful in their lifetime?

“We can’t even predict all the jobs that will exist when they graduate, but we can predict the kind of skills they’ll need to be successful, no matter what those jobs are,” said Fagen.

And the Douglas County School District has been reaching out to some of the biggest names on the planet.

“Nike, for example, wants people who ‘obliterate’ boundaries, are risk-takers, are smart, passionate curious people, rebels, original thinking,” Fagen said. “So just as the industrial revolution paid attention to what it was the assembly-line mode needed, we want to pay attention to what our business partners want in our students.”

“We have a vested interest in education with relationship to the business community,” D’Ambrosia said. “It’s one of the driving forces for bringing jobs here to the south metro Denver area.”