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Educators say change ahead for students
Schools and teachers must adapt to meet changing demands of students and businesses, area's educational leaders agree

Date published: 12/4/2012

BY PAMELA GOULD

Education must change to meet the demands of today's students, but also must emphasize ways for graduates to succeed in the business world, the Fredericksburg region's top academic leaders said Monday.

"I think a lot of students come to school and tolerate us for part of the day and then go home and start the real learning," said King George County Schools Superintendent Robert Benson.

"They're growing up having all of this information at their fingertips. Now they want education at the tip of their fingers," he added.

The Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce assembled the presidents of the University of Mary Washington and Germanna Community College as well as superintendents from Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline and King George counties, and a director from Fredericksburg schools to talk about the future of education. They also discussed how educators and entrepreneurs can meet one another's needs.

From kindergarten through college, students are being taught critical thinking and problem solving, two essentials for success in any field, the educators said.

Those skills help college graduates find careers both in and outside their majors. That signals success in the approach, UMW President Rick Hurley said.

In addition, business owners continue to need people with such basic skills as showing up on time, being prepared, and skilled in communication and teamwork, Germanna President David Sam said.

Beyond that, educators said they need to be flexible in how they work with students to meet future needs.

"We're training them for fields that haven't been invented yet," Sam said.

With that in mind, the superintendents said the educational process must make adjustments. They are eager for support from business, especially in light of continuing cuts to education funding.

Students--including the college-bound--need more opportunities for career and technical education so that they can apply knowledge to practical situations. They also need offers from business for real-world experiences through internships or visits from people in various fields.

Stafford Superintendent Randy Bridges and Spotsylvania Superintendent Scott Baker said public schools must provide personalized plans for students to grow academically and explore their abilities.

Bridges sees the need to offer a blend of instructional options, such as online classes as well as classroom instruction.

Caroline Superintendent Gregory Killough said instruction needs to be individually paced, beginning in elementary school.

"We've got to quit holding back our most gifted learners," he said.

With the future unknown and technology changing so quickly, students must be flexible to succeed in the workforce, said Dinah Robinson, career and technical education director for Fredericksburg schools.

"I think if we can build into our students the idea that they are lifelong learners, that will help them," Robinson said.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
Email: pgould@freelancestar.com