Olathe School District recognizes educational partnership with K-State

March 4, 2011

Olathe Unified School District 233 logoOLATHE, Kan. - Long before they had a permanent building in Olathe to work from, Kansas State University staff members were working with Olathe schools. Now, K-State has been recognized by the Olathe School District for helping educate high school students about careers in animal health and the biosciences.

"The Olathe Public Schools have been very pleased to partner with K-State in the development of a variety of opportunities for our students and staff," said Gretchen Sherk, director of secondary programs in the Olathe district. "The impact of this partnership has already been experienced by our students and teachers, K-12, in a variety of applications, from intensive program design at the high school level to project connections at the middle and elementary levels. We recognize the value-added dimension of this partnership in complementing our mission of preparing students for their futures."

Teresa Woods, who currently serves as K-State's coordinator with the district, represented the university when the partnership was formally recognized at a Feb. 3 Olathe Board of Education meeting.

The collaboration grew from the city of Olathe's land donation to the university in 2007 The land is now the site of K-State's newest campus and the International Animal Health and Food Safety Institute, which will be formally dedicated April 26.

Initial talks involving K-State's Dan Richardson, chief executive officer of the Olathe campus; Lisa Freeman, then associate vice president for innovation; and Pat All, then superintendent of the Olathe schools, laid the groundwork for the programs currently in place.

Woods works on a number of programs with the district, including the Animal Health 21st Century Program, based at Olathe North High School. That program was designed as a national model to help train the future work force in animal health and food safety. Woods works closely with Sherk and James Estes, lead teacher for the animal health program at Olathe North, among others.

One of the important messages for students is that there are many career opportunities in animal health beyond becoming a veterinarian, Woods said.

K-State's involvement includes developing and teaching summer camps, a freshman science course and an online noncredit course, as well as field trips to relevant departments on K-State's main campus in Manhattan. K-State faculty members have spoken to the high school students about careers in animal health, and they participate in a career fair every October.

The Animal Health 21st Century Program responds to a national need to develop a work force that understands the intersection between animal, human and environmental health, Woods said. It began in the 2009-2010 school year with 11 students who are now juniors. Twenty-five sophomores and 25freshmen are also currently enrolled. More information about the 21st Century programs in the Olathe schools can be found at http://21stcentury.olatheschools.com/.

"In addition to their high school diploma, students in the school district's 21st Century programs can earn endorsements by putting in extra work beyond their regular participation, including internships and job shadowing. Their senior year includes extra projects and an online credit course through Metropolitan Community College," Woods said.

"Our engagement with the Olathe School District has allowed us to pilot programs that we can bring to other districts in Johnson County," she said.

"This effort exemplifies a key part of our mission to expose students in Johnson County schools to education and careers in the areas of animal health and food safety," Richardson said.

Because collaborators hope the partnership can serve as a model for similar programs between universities and school districts, team members have given presentations at the 2009 Experimental Biology Conference in New Orleans and the 2010 National Science Teachers Association meeting in Kansas City.

"I think it's really important for the Olathe community to understand what's going on here ... we're on the cusp of something really fantastic. I think of a Silicon Valley and a Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. I think we've got the potential here to have something on a national scale like that," said Harlan Parker, an Olathe school board member, to the K-State and Olathe district staff and administrators involved in the partnership.

A work force trained in animal health is particularly important in the Kansas City area, which is the heart of the Animal Health Corridor. The corridor runs from Manhattan to Columbia, Mo.

"Partnering with the Olathe School District has been a valuable opportunity for Kansas State University to make higher education a part of K-12 students' experiences," said April Mason, K-State provost. "It has allowed us to connect with Kansas City's next generation of life science professionals."

K-State is working with the Olathe School District in other ways. When a Meadow Lane Elementary School student expressed concern about the trees that were cleared to make way for the new K-State building, university officials gave a presentation to the students about the construction process and helped them plant new trees at the site. Students in the eCommunication 21st Century Program at Olathe Northwest High School videotaped the groundbreaking ceremony of the International Animal Health and Food Safety Institute and will videotape the dedication of the building in April.

Source: Teresa Woods, 913-541-1220, twoods@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Mary Lou Peter, 913-541-1220, mlpeter@k-state.edu