Learning in the real world: Students excel in the CAPS program by working hands-on with professionals in various fields

As she carefully finishes taping another student’s ankle, senior Brooke McNerlin steps back to admire her work. Today’s class taught the proper way to wrap an injured foot. Tomorrow, McNerlin will begin forming her own physical therapy program for injured athletes.
“We are able to have real hands-on experience,” McNerlin said. “We’re learning why and how you take care of certain injuries.”
Every morning during the week, McNerlin spends two-and-half hours in a sports medicine and athletic training course offered through the district’s new CAPS program.
The Center for Advanced Professional Studies is unique compared to high schools around the country. CAPS was developed to give students real-life exposure to different career fields.
The program, open to all juniors and seniors, offers courses including Law and Public Safety, Bioscience, Education and Global Business.
“We worked with local businesses throughout the community to put kids in the real work environment,” CAPS Executive Director Donna Deeds said. “This was something business owners were highly supportive of. This program enables students to become employees that can be hired quickly.”
Deeds also worked to organize mentors for the CAPS students. Each course has employees that work directly with the students on various projects.
“It’s one thing to sit and learn in theory,” school counselor Sandy Fryer said. “But this program allows the students to go out into the community and interact with actual workers. It allows for a more realistic feel.”
After only a few short weeks in the athletic training department, McNerlin is already familiar with wrapping and taping injuries, certified in CPR and has taken a trip to MidAmerica Nazarene University to see professional athletic trainers on the job.
“It’s so interesting because I am choosing to learn about this,” McNerlin said. “I’m excited to come to class everyday because it’s what I want to learn about and it’s what interests me.”
Continuing the course next semester, McNerlin will be able to interact with more college and professional athletic trainers. She will also be spending more time at MidAmerica, working with the trainers.
Senior Clayton Kruger also participates in CAPS. He’s a student in the digital electronics course and spends the second half of his day at the architectural and engineering group, DRL.
While there, Kruger works on wiring circuits and is paired with a mentor from the DRL group.
“I feel much more prepared for a real-world job,” Kruger said. “This is extra experience I can apply to an actual job compared to just reading out of a textbook.”
Kruger became interested in the program when he heard about the involvement of the course outside of school.
“It’s different from sitting and listening to a lecture,” Kruger said. “I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything from not being in a classroom all day.”
This course also gives students the chance to decide if their chosen field is the right career path for them.
“Ultimately, they are finding out if this is what they want to pursue in college,” Fryer said. “This is a more professional approach for students.”
It also doesn’t hurt that the CAPS program is a powerful addition to any college resume.
“It speaks to students’ motivation and wanting to get out of the everyday classroom,” Fryer said. “It definitely gives you a leg up on the competition.”
With a new CAPS building opening in the fall of 2010, the program hopes to expand and offer more courses to a larger number of students.
“There are businesses coming to us that want to be part of our program,” Deeds said. “However, our courses will change with the industry. Jobs that are popular now may change in the next few years, so CAPS will change as well.” by Allison Kohn.