Hands-on learning: Westfield High School expanding options to prepare students for life after graduation

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Learning at Westfield Washington Schools doesn’t always involve traditional desks and chalkboards. Westfield High School Assistant Principal Matt Putman said the district is taking steps to introduce students to hands-on learning and prepare them for the day after graduation.

“We have had a lot of conversations over the last couple months about better aligning programs and resources available for our students,” Putman said. “If certain students are looking to get into health science careers or construction trades or the hospitality and tourism industry, we want to make sure we have the right pathways and programs available.”

Putman said focusing on hands-on learning also is a priority of the district’s new leadership team of Supt. Paul Kaiser and John Atha, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, who joined the district in late May.

“The nice thing is, it seems like everything is starting to align,” Putman said. “The new leadership’s vision and our vision at the high school is really starting to align perfectly.”

Kaiser said in the modern world, companies and jobs are created faster than curriculum can keep up with, so students should be able explore opportunities outside the classroom to keep up with that evolution.

What last year (with the COVID-19 pandemic) cemented for all of us is that, in order to keep up with the pace of society, education needs to go way beyond the classroom,” Kaiser said. “That’s why it’s important that we prepare Westfield students to be life-ready. The sooner our Shamrocks can get hands-on experience in their desired fields, the better equipped they will be to continue to impact our community and our world.”

Kaiser detailed several classes that prepare students, such as the medical detectives class that teaches students how to evaluate crime scenes; the construction program that instructs students how to build structures from the ground up; and coding classes and the family and consumer sciences programs, which place students directly into hospitality jobs.

“We are even looking into creating an agricultural science program to ensure our students are prepared for Indiana’s flourishing farming industry,” Kaiser said. “Classroom learning is the foundation of education and allows students to see and select from a variety of educational and professional pathways. We want hands-on learning to bolster their joy for education and put them ahead of their peers the day they walk across the graduation stage.”

Putman said the district has partnered with the Westfield Education Foundation to secure grants, such as one from Duke Energy that funded new equipment for a construction trade program to help students become OSHA certified.

“OSHA is a safety certification that’s universal in the construction industry, and it shows (when) our students come out with that certificate that they understand the important aspects of safety,” Putman said. “Coming out with that certificate is a game changer for a lot of our students and gets them to that next level instead of just their foot in the door.”

Another WEF grant funded a career book that outlines the school’s nearly 300 courses.

“This career book is really going to connect all of our courses to certain career pathways,” Putman said. “Such as, if a student really wants to go into the biomedical or health science field, it’s going to help them plan out what courses to take at the high school level to help prepare them for additional education they need to receive. That helps them figure out and map out a timeline and plan for them after they graduate from Westfield High School.”

Human Body Systems students use fetal dopplers and blood pressure cuffs to measure ankle/brachial index.

Giving students a chance to explore

Also new this school year are three days, one each in the fall, winter and spring, that would traditionally be e-learning days that are now opportunities for students to explore outside the classroom.

“We are encouraging students to do job shadows, college visits or look at apprenticeship schools,” Putman said. “We are getting students outside the traditional WHS walls and getting them exposure to career opportunities or additional educational opportunities to get their eyes open.”

Putman said there also will be an online component to those three days.

“It’s not truly an off day,” he said. “It’s still considered part of the school day, but it’s more aligned to getting them out finding opportunities and exploring some of those opportunities.”


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