Learning Matters: Preparing students for the future

There I was, in the forecourt of the Alex Theatre a few weeks after April's election, sampling my first bites of Glendale Healthy Kids' annual "Taste of Downtown Glendale," when News-Press Editor Dan Evans approached and asked me to consider becoming an education columnist.

"Great idea!" chimed in my husband. "You've had eight years on the school board; you have a lot to share."

So I began to think of the many newsworthy topics and stories to be told: school-to-career opportunities and arts instruction, the benefits and drawbacks of standardized testing, what all those education acronyms mean and don't mean, what we've done — and must still do — to keep our children safe.

And then it struck me how all those topics circle around Glendale Unified School District's motto, "Preparing our students for their future." So what is their future and how does it differ from ours, or that of our parents or their parents?

Their future will likely include more job changes than their parents experienced. Employees are on the move as never before. When my husband interviewed for a job 30 years ago, he was asked, "Why do you want to make a change when the opportunity at your company is very much like any we could offer you?"

In a more recent interview, after having worked nearly 20 years for the same company, he was asked, "Why so many years in one place? Why didn't you make a change?"

Though opinions vary on the number of jobs and careers a graduate can expect, students should not expect job stability. We see examples of this itinerancy even in our comparatively stable school district.

As of June, only seven of our district's 30 principals had been GUSD principals for the eight years I served on the school board and of those, only three had been at the same school all that time. From 2005 until now, including this summer's changes, there have been 15 different administrators covering the five assistant superintendent positions in GUSD. In public education, as in the world at large, change happens.

Many jobs once available to high school graduates now require post-secondary education and often require some level of technological skill. According to the U.S. Department of Immigration and Naturalization, as reported in the 2012 Verdugo Labor Market Report, "90,000 foreign work visas are granted every year because employers say they can't find the skilled workers they need in the U.S."

I do not mean to say all our students should pursue math and science with all their energy. But they should understand the employability benefits of postsecondary education and the importance of becoming better global citizens.

At a workshop for manufacturers hosted a few years ago by the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board, presenters told participating business representatives they were looking for employees who understood the language, culture and history of their international customers: "The export-import world is a relationship business."

Companies both here and abroad have work and volunteer opportunities for which foreign-language fluency is highly sought. Happily for our community, more students are gaining that fluency, thanks to the school district's dual-language-immersion Foreign Language Academies of Glendale.

But there is plenty more to do to prepare our students for their future. They face a life of ever-emerging challenges in an increasingly competitive — and transnational — workplace. It is an exciting time that is budding with opportunities where learning matters.

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JOYLENE WAGNER is a former member of the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education.

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