Real World | CAPS program offers professional experiences

Madison Johnson (Education) teaches first graders at Orchard Hill about STEM. Lauren Lilly (Medical) practices CPR in the SIM lab. Nate Rolling, Nick Bellendier, Keyshawn Mosley, Alyssa Neese, and Zach McGuire (Robotics & Engineering) learn how to use the “pancake bot.” Caiden Barnett (Business & Solutions) worked a murder mystery event at Black Hawk Hotel.

Since 2017, the district has been leading a program called CAPS, also known as the Center for Advanced Professional Studies. This program gives high school students a chance to see what it is like in the professional world. 

“The program is built in a way everyone can get something out of it if they let themselves view things differently and work hard at it. Some find purpose and passion. Some find a career path or check a career off their list. Some find out who they are or what they are skilled at. Some realize they have value in this world while others recognize we can all do better and improve.  Some find a voice. Some learn to listen. Most of all I hope everyone in the program finds something to value,” CAPS Director Ethan Weichmann said.

“CAPS affected my life in a positive way, not only finding what I wanted to do after high school but how to be professional and overcome difficult tasks,” said 2020 early grad Maddison Johnson who was a part of the education strand. 

There are four strands in the program: education, business and solutions, robotics and engineering, and medical and health services. As a course the directors believe in collaboration between education, business and the community on projects. 

The course involves meetings, dressing in business professional clothing and being on one’s best behavior because one never knows who is watching. With that being said the CAPS directors also know how to make it fun for their students, from thanksgiving feasts to food Fridays, they always keep things interesting.

“I am in the business solutions strand of CAPS. I absolutely love being able to be in a different environment than an everyday school building. I love that we get to work with real life clients and help them turn their vision for what they want/need into reality. I am currently working on my own personal business as well, so it is a great time for me to grow professionally with that and also have time to work on my own business. CAPS is such a great experience. If you have the chance to fit it into your schedule, I highly recommend it,” senior Raelynn Smith said. 

CAPS teaches all the skills that graduates would need to be successful in the real world, from handshakes to writing emails and setting up meetings.

“CAPS specifically gave me the time to take my projects a step further. That extra three hours of work time a day has been extremely helpful. I use that time to work on little details. For instance, I’ll be giving a lecture at the University of Northern Iowa tomorrow, which I simply wouldn’t have the time for without CAPS,” senior business and solutions strand member Hollis Wilson said in regard to a lecture he gave on March 10 at UNI on his entrepreneurial experiences.Wilson owns a clothing company called “Old People Brand.”

For this course, students are moved outside of the traditional classroom. The education, business and solutions, and medical strands all meet at UNI and then move to different projects and placements in various locations while the engineering and robotics strand meets at Viking Pump to then further their projects or placements.

CAPS helps students find their passions and explore things they never thought were possible and provides chances to work with professionals in the career of their choosing. 

“I have a better understanding of what it truly means to be a professional now. I understand the importance of being punctual and ready. I understand that you need to look professional to be treated as such, and I understand that if you truly want any project you’re working on to be the best it can, then you will put in the best of effort to make it that way,” 2020 early grad Cael Rhea said.

“I am thrilled when I see our associates out in the ‘real world’ after graduation.  One of the many benefits of a CAPS experience is that you are immersed in that real world scenario early and often with the CAPS model, so, essentially, alumni have a better time adjusting and acclimating to the real world after graduation.  I love it when I can chat with them about how they are doing, their current and future plans, their future career plans and many have said that CAPS has helped them tremendously. It’s gratifying as a teacher to see your former students (and CAPS associates) succeed after graduation, and, hopefully, you might have had a small part in helping them with that.” CAPS director Megan Droste said.

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