This blog post, which is the first in a series of three, is a little different than what I usually write. I try to inform teachers who use Campus about tools available or updates to the software. I also like to highlight some of the cool things teachers are doing, both to acknowledge them and to inspire others with their stories. This series is different; I will highlight some teachers and students, but I also want to highlight Infinite Campus and share a unique way our company gives back to our local schools.
This story is rich and personal to those involved. So as much as possible, the people involved tell this story and not me. Over the course of this series you’ll hear from teachers, students and Infinite Campus employees. This first post introduces the partnership and tells the story of the teachers involved. The second post gives voice to the students in the class. The final post introduces a few Infinite Campus employees and lets them share what they learned from the partnership.
It’s not uncommon for a company to have a partnership with a local school district. A new partnership formed last year between Infinite Campus in Blaine, MN and Spring Lake Park High School (SLPHS) in the nearby community of Spring Lake Park. Blaine and Spring Lake Park are both suburbs of the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area.
The goals of the partnership were to:
- Introduce students to career opportunities in technology
- Provide students with a Python coding workshop
- Allow students to experience what happens in the Infinite Campus corporate headquarters and talk with our (mostly) young software professionals
- Allow Infinite Campus employees to visit classrooms, talk with teachers and observe the technology used in classrooms
These goals were accomplished by these activities:
- Two field trips by SLPHS students to Campus headquarters
- Multiple groups of various Campus employees visiting classrooms
Partnership activities occurred from September 2018 to February 2019. In May 2019, I sat down with the participants to learn about them, what was special about the specific SLPHS program within the high school and what the partnership with Infinite Campus meant to them.
Spring Lake Park High School’s program
In the 2018-19 school year, SLPHS introduced a Career Pathways program. One of the pathways focuses on technology, engineering and design which was a natural fit for a partnership with Infinite Campus.
In the first year of program, there was a lot of learning happening – not only for the students but for the teachers as well. Jeremy Sellman and Brandon Masloski co-taught the introductory Technology, Engineering and Design Pathway course. Jeremy is an English teacher and Brandon is a math teacher.
The class offered an overview of lots of technology topics, including coding, cybersecurity, and reading and writing in the digital age. To cover these topics, Jeremy and Brandon created curriculum, used coding websites, planned field trips, and continually made adjustments to meet the needs of the students and the goals of the class.
Jeremy and Brandon’s class was one of the first to embrace the thinking of a career pathway at SLPHS, especially the multi-disciplinary approach. At the end of the year, the teachers were able to reflect on the journey they’d taken. Jeremy shared, “Now that we’ve had the chance to co-teach, we’ve figured out ‘what is our class?’ Because at the beginning of the year, we both had some ideas. We have both thrown out those ideas and remolded it at least three times each.” One thing they did know is that they wanted this class to be different. And, they said they got that with their very first site visit to Infinite Campus.
“Campus was our first site visit we got to go on this year. That definitely set the scene,” Brandon said. They wanted things that were different experiences for students, he explained, not just the traditional “workplace with cubes.” “We wanted to see something a little more dynamic and that’s exactly what we got,” Brandon said.
Not only was the tour memorable for students, but so was meeting Charlie Kratsch, Infinite Campus founder and CEO. The company “was very open and welcoming and accepting which was very good for the kids. And from that very early moment, it helped our class be different,” he added.
Jeremy agreed, saying “The whole idea of having something different was what we were going for. And having that authentic, real-life experience with a real business out there.” The fact that Infinite Campus is a tech company made for a natural fit, but still, “I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Jeremy said. Luckily, it set the standard for all the site visits. “That was a very high standard,” he said. “So well organized. Everyone open and accessible, letting us come through their areas.” He said they really looked to have a similar “behind-the-curtains” feel for the other places they visited. “It was great to see the tech part of it,” he said, “but even better to see the real working environment.”
Skills for the workforce
Teachers often try to help their students learn 21st century skills. They explain to their students why they need to learn to collaborate with each other and why they need to be critical thinkers and be able to problem solve, but students don’t always get a chance to see these skills in action. On one visit, Brandon recalled, all of those pieces just came together. One Campus employee spoke unprompted about working with different teams. He said it helped students envision what work might look like in the future and help them understand what they might be aiming for with college or career choices they make now.
Jeremy noticed students caught on to the importance of critical thinking and problem solving right away. “One of the best things the kids took away right away was, if I didn’t know something, I had to go figure it out. No one was there to tell me,” he. Jeremy said they revisited that message throughout the year. Students would remember “that’s just what they said at Campus. People who work every day, they know some things but if they don’t know them, they just try to figure it out. And it’s not like a waiting game, it’s an active learning game.” Jeremy gave an example: “the whole idea of don’t come and ask me if you haven’t tried to figure it out because the first thing I’m going to ask you is did you Google it? Did you look it up somewhere?”
That was a new mindset for the students. Brandon described it this way: “I think it helped our kids understand that, whereas oftentimes high schoolers get to the root of their learning by thinking ‘I’ll just start from zero and ask the teacher to get me up to 10.’ That at least they will go out and get to three or four first so they have some ideas.”
The students got to see that in action at Campus. Jeremy said it helped them understand the “team aspect” a lot more – Campus employees are expected to come to the table with ideas in mind that they can contribute to the team.
Jeremy noted how students were, from the get-go, able to see what they were learning in the SLPHS classroom translate to the site visits to Campus. “Even though it was so early in the year,” and the students hadn’t been in class very long, people at Campus “were using these terms and they weren’t dumbing it down for the kids. They were at the business level, at the professional level, and you could just see the kids light up when they were like ‘oh, I know that word. I know that word or that concept or idea.” It made both students and teachers more excited about what the rest of the year would offer.
Pathways are not straight paths
In the Pathways program, where teachers show students college and career options, it’s also helpful to hear how young people already in the workforce got to the positions they have today. On the tour of Infinite Campus, students heard from our software professionals in different positions. Brandon recalled, there were “about eight different people, and just hearing about their advancement … no two people were the same,” he said. Some people had the traditional college route. There was the converted math teacher. But then were also a few who didn’t do the college route. “They said, ‘I worked here and then here and I just worked my way up.’ And that was one of the more eye-opening things for our kids,” he said. “We have a huge range of kids: kids you know are very much going to go to a four-year school; some who might do the two-year transfer; some might not go until later in their lives if they even go at all. So I think it was fun for them all to see someone that they could be like and not just a one-dimensional view of ‘oh this is how we have to do things.’”
Learning to code
Jeremy and Brandon’s class was able to make a second trip to Campus in November 2018. That visit included a Python coding workshop.
Brandon noted the benefit of multiple trips. It’s great to “go back because that first time the students do anything they are always a little timid. The difference of our first trip to Campus and our second was night and day. Our kids were more engaged; they were ready to ask more questions. And I don’t think that was just because they’d had us for longer in the year, I think it was just because Infinite Campus wasn’t a new place.”
“Going on the site visit is wonderful but sometimes they get overwhelmed there’s so much to take in. They were more comfortable that second time,” Jeremy added.
Future of Pathways at SLPHS
Every school year brings new challenges and new opportunities. Students were back at SLPHS on September 3. The Pathways program is growing to offer additional courses for students, and teachers are working to offer more authentic experiences.
Looking forward, Jeremy said of the partnership with Infinite Campus: “I think it’s a wonderful partnership – on all sides of it. I think we’d like to take advantage of it even more. Have more of those experiences, whatever they might be. I think that’s great. We’ve just scratched the surface.”
See what the students learned from their two visits to Infinite Campus in part two in this series: The students.