Skip to content

Region’s employers, educators supporting workforce development recognized at Real World Learning event

Students sit on a panel onstage with a facilitator
Bill Nicely, educator-in-residence at the Kauffman Foundation, hosts a student-led panel featuring 2023 ProX participants including Mason Salehi, Emily McDowell, Sara Sadeghi, and Jocelyn Ducree, during the Real World Learning "Get on the Bus" event Feb. 1 at Union Station in Kansas City.

At Kansas City’s Union Station, more than 500 educators, employers,
and students were celebrated at the ‘Get on the Bus’ event.

Hundreds of business partners, community leaders, educators, and students came together Feb. 1 to recognize forward-thinking educators and employers whose collaboration is pivotal in reimagining high school through Kansas City’s Real World Learning initiative. Award winners were announced live, including Children’s Mercy Hospital, CommunityAmerica, and the Kansas City Fire Department. 

We’re celebrating how true collaboration across the region is activating communities to provide tens of thousands of students with real-world experiences.

— Bill Nicely
RWL Educator-in-Residence, Kauffman Foundation

Real World Learning is a Kansas City-based initiative, incubated at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, in partnership with the community, that works to prepare our region, students, and employers for the future. Through immersive experiences like projects and internships with leading employer partners, students get a head start on achieving their career goals at an early age.

“We’re celebrating how true collaboration across the region is activating communities to provide tens of thousands of students with real-world experiences. Together, we are on a mission to give every student the opportunity to achieve their potential and help employers invest in their businesses by engaging, supporting, and inspiring the workforce of tomorrow,” said Bill Nicely, Kauffman Foundation Educator-in-Residence. “The amazing commitment to Real World Learning in Kansas City is proving that this cross-sector collaborative work is changing education at scale.”

This energetic event shared the momentum of Real World Learning across the metro including 75 metro high schools and 35 school districts, creating opportunities for roughly 83,000 students. 

The event featured Real World Learning student and employer stories, recognition awards for outstanding employers and educators, and a student-led panel featuring 2023 ProX participants:

“Kansas City has more than 5,000 high school teachers and so many of them are embracing the change that is necessary to provide real world learning experiences in and outside the classroom,” said Obiamaka “Obi” Obiesie, a student from North Kansas City School District’s Staley High School and a RWL Student Voice Captain. “They’re doing things they’ve never done before – managing employer relationships, aligning curriculum standards to employer projects, and ensuring that our voices are heard as we navigate life after high school.”

The RWL movement

High school is being reimagined in Kansas City by the cross-sector collaboration of the Real World Learning community. Explore some of the 2024 RWL honorees:

Industry Innovator Award

Children’s Mercy Hospital

Children’s Mercy Hospital has been committed to adopting and iterating as they build bridges between education and their organization. They host students and educators, but also offer client-connected projects and internships, as well as build partnerships that allow students to start working toward their nursing degree prior to high school graduation.

Industry Champion Award

Kansas City Metropolitan Healthcare Council

In 2023, the Kansas City Metropolitan Healthcare Council rallied together hospital systems, healthcare providers, and training programs to coordinate deeper awareness and access for educators and learners. They also made sure that students who were looking to take care of Kansas City were hired into a wide variety of opportunities in healthcare that will support their continued advancement while they work.

Business Champions of the Year

Arts Asylum, nominated by Hickman Mills School District

When the Hickman Mills School District noticed a gap in Arts & Communications, Arts Asylum answered the call to create opportunities for entrepreneurial experiences, projects, and internships, and created space for students to shine as they put together summer camps for elementary students and deliver their own self-written, self-directed plays.

Holland 1916, nominated by North Kansas City School District

As an early adopter of RWL, Holland 1916, a North Kansas City metal manufacturing business, is one to learn from in structuring education outreach. Holland 1916 highlights how leadership priorities mobilize and create value for both students and their business. Through the guidance of Marilyn Beach, CFO, the Design, Innovation, and Technology pathway has been transformed into a hub of innovation for students who grow through client-connected projects and internships that embrace emerging technologies. The commitment to developing students as a pillar of their company culture sets a bar that inspires others.

Kansas City Fire Department (KCFD), nominated by Center School District

KCFD became a key component when the Center School District developed its First Responders pathway. The partnership created opportunities for quality design and delivery of curriculum, earning internships, and stackable credentials.

Opportunity Accelerators Recipients

Jeremy Covey, Center School District

While Covey is charged with creating and leveraging industry relationships for the benefit of students, he consistently makes it a priority to check-in with classroom teachers and lead professional learning. Along with being a leader in his own district, he is also an integral part of the South Kansas City micro-region, which includes himself, as well as the RWL coordinators from Hickman Mills and Grandview School Districts. His engagement with this group led to the development of the First Responders’ Program, which is open to students from any of the three districts.

Dylan Peterson, Fort Osage School District

As the district’s business and community coordinator, Peterson supports several of the district’s programs, from the Business Accelerator to the Campus Grounds Coffee Shop, to the K-8 teaching teams. She has been an innovative voice within her district, helping create the Cadet Teaching Program, a Grow Your Own initiative aimed at creating future teachers, as well as helping launch a revamped internship program. She continues to be a ‘cheerleader’ for teachers as they think about new ways to support students’ learning and growth.

Polly Vader, Piper School District

Vader has cultivated deep and trusting relationships with educators, students, and employers. She has hosted numerous workshops for teaching staff, she has ensued that every high schooler has an individual plan of study that culminates in a senior capstone project, and she has established multiple partnerships with local businesses and community leaders.

Pedagogy Pioneers

Sarah Renfrow and Stefani Russ, Raymore-Peculiar High School

Renfrow and Russ have embraced education innovation not only in their own classrooms but are now mentoring and guiding other teachers around our region to help them implement real-world learning teaching strategies. They have developed professional learning guidebooks, curated resources from across 30 school districts, and given hours of their time to simply listen and provide advice and support to other teachers. They have also embraced the empowerment of student voice and agency in the classroom and in our schools.