UCS means Success for this year’s graduates and all those to come

Christine M. Johns

Utica Community Schools has sent more than 2,200 new graduates out into the world this year.

They are leaving our schools with a wealth of experience, bold determination, a sense of optimism about their futures and that extra something known to our community as UCS means Success.

Our district has a long legacy of graduating young men and women with both a solid academic foundation in core areas as well as the skills needed for success in their postsecondary educational pursuits, military service or the workplace.

Never before has academic success been as important as it is today, as educators throughout the nation redefine the characteristics students will need in order to be competitive in tomorrow’s workforce.

Yale economist Robert Shiller recently wrote in The New York Times about the impact the technology age and automation have had on available jobs (New York Times, May 22, 2015).
He reasoned that because computers are becoming more adept at processing and compiling information traditionally handled by employees, job providers will need a different kind of workforce. He concluded that teachers “should define and provide to our students a certain kind of general, flexible, insight-bearing human learning that… cannot be replaced (by computers).”

I am confident our graduates this year and those that follow will continue to be well-prepared for this changing job market – to think differently – thanks to the work of our teachers to provide students opportunities for success at every level.
A prime example is our district’s nationally-recognized use of technology in all K-12 classrooms. Effective technology integration goes hand-in-hand with developing students who are able to work collaboratively, demonstrate flexibility, apply essential problem-solving skills and succeed at the next level.

The Digital Learning Media Design (DLMD) course introduced this year in our seven junior high schools already supports the skills Dr. Shiller referenced. Beyond teaching computer expertise, the DLMD curriculum stresses important concepts in using technology in the most effective and appropriate ways.

The course has our students put together a complex multimedia presentation that requires them to focus on addressing an important issue such as cyberbullying. Students work in small groups to prepare an overall presentation on the topic and possible solutions they then offer to the whole class for input and discussion. In the process, everyone is accountable for producing a successful project – an authentic workplace skill.

Flexibility and creative learning are truly fundamental to all of our programs. Another prime example of teaching our students how to think differently is in the area of language arts. Students are taken beyond basic literacy skills to consider different situations – such as imagining what would happen to the characters in Harper Lee’s novel "To Kill a Mockingbird"
if the story was told today.

Dr. Shiller’s observation is correct up to a point, but the reality is that computers can only take us so far. To navigate their future, our students will need to go beyond where technology stops. They must also develop the intrinsic human drive for success – “the grit” – that can never be automated.

This June, as I stood on the stage at the district’s six commencement ceremonies and looked out at our collective Class of 2015, I saw that grit and creativity in the faces of each of the graduates.

They have that one thing that will always make a difference in tomorrow’s job market and in life – the advantage of UCS Success.

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