GO CAPS program at Monett High School ready to expand
Off-campus learning gaining traction among students, businesses
Now in its third year, the Greater Ozarks Center for Advanced Professional Studies (GO CAPS) program at Monett High School plans to continue expanding, adding a strand for agri-business and food systems next year.
The GO CAPS program offered education on a different level from the traditional classroom by providing opportunities for students to discover potential careers with local employers through experiential learning in a workplace setting. Students participate in project driven real-world learning, receiving education from professionals in business settings and learning in different environments and cultures.
Students are on site two hours a day, five days a week, working with professionals and driven by their specific project. According to Rebecca Merriman, program coordinator, placing students in contact with local businesses in a more professional and intense interaction than traditional job shadowing has opened doors for both students and businesses.
Students enrolled in the engineering and manufacturing strand attend daily classes at an EFCO classroom location. During the fall semester, students in the engineering strand working at EFCO designed and built a prototype for a cart for one of the manufacturing lines.
Technology strand students attend class within the Jack Henry and Associates corporate headquarters in Monett. This year, two teams are working with pilots at Jack Henry, analyzing data to help the travel department make decisions based on efficiency. Another team worked at the internal help desk.
The engineering and manufacturing strain has worked with Monett Metals and EFCO Corporation. The medicine and healthcare strand works with Cox Monett Hospital, participating in diverse projects such as planning for a simulated bus accident. The teacher education strand, started in the second year, immerses students in different teaching styles and best practices, moving students from preschool through eighth grade.
The agri-business and food systems strand will debut with an open house for students, parents, educators and business partners at 1 p.m. on Feb. 28 at the University of Missouri’s Southwest Research Center, southwest of Mt. Vernon, where the program will have its operations base.
Merriman said 42 students are participating in GO CAPS, up from 34 in the second year and 15 in the first year. New this year, the program has opened its doors to a Pierce City High School student, the first time a Monett High School program has invited other districts to participate. Merriman hoped other districts will choose to send students next year as well.
GO CAPS is not part of the Scott Regional Technology Center, but is managed through the high school as part of the CAPS program run by the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, part of a national network of CAPS programs.
“The learning experience is very engaging and unique,” Merriman said. “Word of mouth is spreading the news. Alumni are talking about how impactful the experience was. That spreads to students and helps shape a career path. The program has been around long enough now that students are able to schedule classes ahead of time to plan for a class like ours. Freshmen and sophomores know about it and can make a plan to take it in their junior or senior year.”
The program is designed as a single-year experience. This year, one student returned for another run through the program. Last year, four did the same, and already several this year have said they want to return next year.
One advantage, Merriman found, is some students discover through a strand the suitability of a career path.
“One student took the teacher education strand and decided ‘Maybe that’s not for me,’” Merriman said. “Now, that student is going to take the engineering strand to see if that’s a better fit for their talent. The purpose is still the same: find some experiences and make them even more engaging in a team environment.
“It’s like a boot camp that has professional skills. Students are placed in situations to solve problems with business leaders quicker and more often, because they have engaged students working on a problem more completely.”
Another benefit the program has gained through its track record has been a growing awareness within the business community of the quality of work GO CAPS students have done.
“We had more excitement in the business community in year 1 than we had students,” Merriman said. “What excites me is by having more students and we have just as many companies and managers who are willing to give these projects to these students. I think word of mouth from the managers has helped. Myself and our instructors have had liaisons with other companies that have been hearing a consistent message and seeing the work.”
Merriman reported that a recent graduate from Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla shared that no one else in his class had comparable experience to what he received through GO CAPS.
“We’re really setting our students apart by giving them time and exposure,” Merriman said. “That really excites me.”
For the agri-business and food strand, Merriman is seeking local business partners to participate.
“We have a wealth of resources, from seed in the ground to production and processing at 3D Corporate Solutions, Schreiber Foods and Tyson Foods,” Merriman said. “The idea for this stand came internally in the school district. Teachers were saying this program has huge potential. We have partners in universities who say we need something for these students. We’re adding a different type of learning environment. We want to explore what careers look like in this area.”
Monett vocational agriculture instructor and FFA sponsor Kristi Sivils served as an advocate for the strand to see what it can do for her students, Merriman was pleased to work with both Sivils and science teacher Neil Bluel in shaping the proposal. Several students have already signed up for the program. An instructor for the strand is still being sought.
“The Southwest Research Center has agreed to be the host site for the class,” Merriman said. “That puts students in position to doing research in the field and have professionals at their fingertips as resources. It’s a phenomenal opportunity.
“The location [at the Southwest Center] makes it prime for getting students from other districts to participate, especially for this strand.”
Initially, it may have been difficult for students to know what they were getting into with GO CAPS. Now, that seems to have changed. If anything, Merriman said knowledge of the diversity of the educational experience has served to motivate the desire of students.
“They have to be self-driven,” Merriman said. “We develop the resources, but we’re not going to force you. You must seek out the professional connections. In year 1, they had no predecessor to ask. They didn’t quite know how far they could take it. This group has really taken it to the next level.”