In 2022, nine Iowa school leaders came together under a partnership of Iowa STEM and the Iowa Department of Education to fashion a model for district-wide, K-12 work-based learning plans. Criteria included detailing the spectrum of innovative WBL options (existent or planned) across grade levels and content areas; the on-boarding of employer-partners; the professional development provided to educators and to workplace partners; and how WBL is used in classes for contextualizing the learning of content and skills.
Three such plans from Pella, Spencer, and Waterloo community schools were completed and posted to https://www.iowastem.org/WBLplans for study and possible emulation. Interest began to grow.
In 2023, Iowa STEM competitively awarded modest mini-grants ($5,500) to twelve STEM BEST® programs across the state to support their writing of District WBL Plans. Nine recently crossed the finish line to join the showcase on the STEM website: BCLUW, Central, Cherokee, Eastern Allamakee, MFL MarMac, MOC-Floyd Valley, Sheldon, Sioux Center, and West Des Moines community schools. Each of their Plans, in addition to the criteria above, also include staffing, costs/funding, community partners, and importantly, the challenges and barriers to overcome.
The intent of these dozen WBL plans produced by some of Iowa’s leading educational innovators, is to seed the landscape for work-based learning expansion throughout the state. After all, applied learning in exciting settings is what every young Iowan deserves, producing the future workforce that every employer depends upon. May district-wide WBL plans soon become so common that we all look back at 2023 and ask “Remember when there were just twelve?”