To create a more engaging learning environment for Ottumwa High School students, the district will create an off-campus program to link instruction with authentic work experiences through partnerships with local employers.

The initiative, SparkTank, will be initially supported through a grant award of $664,150 from the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation.  Funds will support the formation and start-up operation of SparkTank for the first two years. The concept of linking students to local businesses through authentic experiences is based on similar models developed at other schools, including, Waukee and Ankeny.

The district hired Jeff Kirby to lead SparkTank efforts. As the director, Kirby has been busy since the grant award collaborating with Indian Hills Community College, determining the career strands that will be offered to students, finding a downtown location in close proximity to OHS, hiring personnel, and recruiting students.

In June, the district named Brandon Brooks and Nancy Van Wyk as instructors. Two career strands will be offered to students this fall in three period blocks, Engineering and Design and Communications and Technology. “They are both excellent educators who understand the power of project-based learning and the impact that this program will have on our students,” said Kirby.

The three have been working collaboratively in June to develop curriculum and create foundational lessons for students to help them be successful in the course. Topics to be taught in the first three weeks include: Business Culture, Professional Skills, Personal Branding, Professional Correspondence, and Project Management Strategies. Students will learn through a variety of delivery methods, including projects and presentations. Some presentations will feature local professional business representatives to help students learn what employers expect from their employees. A learning management system called Schoology will assist teachers in delivering these lessons.

Kirby plans to invite several business leaders to serve as an advisory council to SparkTank. The advisory will help develop career strands and link businesses to the project. A planning committee, made up of representatives from the business community, to help drive curriculum and instruction within the strands taught.

Students who indicated an interest in the two career strands that will be offered this fall were selected to hear presentations and sign up. “There was a lot of enthusiasm displayed by the students about the program and we will continue to promote the program to meet the needs of our students,” said Kirby.

An open house event will be scheduled in August. SparkTank will also host a parent meeting in conjunction with the OHS Bulldog Block Party. Watch for details in August.

“We are excited about the collaboration between education, business, and the community that is occurring that will assist us in developing highly skilled students through the expertise of business partners and educators in bringing real world experiences to our students,” said Superintendent Nicole Kooiker.

“The Legacy Foundation is excited to support this innovative learning platform at Ottumwa Schools.  Not only will students have the opportunity to interact with businesses and organizations on-site, they will also be able to hone soft skills and professionalism – all while exploring career opportunities that will allow them to stay in the area and earn competitive salaries.” said Kelly Genners, Vice President of Programs and Initiatives for the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation.

If you are a business or parent who has a student with an interest in this type of program, contact Jeff Kirby for more information at jeff.kirby@ottumwaschools.com