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Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Dan Houston spent an eye-opening hour learning about Waukee APEX and how the program can help reach the state’s Future Ready Iowa goal on April 6. Reynolds serves as co-chair of the Future Ready Iowa Alliance, with Houston, Chairman, CEO and president of Principal.

The Future Ready Iowa goal is for 70 percent of the workforce to have education or training beyond high school by the year 2025. About 58 percent of Iowa’s workforce does now. Closing this skills gap is critical to assuring more Iowans have rewarding career opportunities and that employers can hire the skilled workers they need to innovate and grow.

Waukee APEX draws on the expertise of business partners to bring the real-world application into the high school experience. Waukee Community School District (WCSD) was the first school district to bring this type of programming to Iowa. Reynolds was an early supporter of the program and traveled with district administration and business partners to Blue Valley CAPS in Overland Park, KS in 2013 when Waukee APEX was just an idea.

WCSD launched APEX programming in the fall of 2014 and this January opened the Waukee Innovation and Learning Center (WILC) building which will house some of the program’s courses.

“It’s surreal for me to visit the building. We need to get more people to this building and expose school districts and businesses to the phenomenal things that are happening,” said Reynolds during a round table discussion. “It is 21st-century education. It is how we need to be educating.”

This year, over 300 students participated in an APEX course. Next year the program hopes to grow that number by 100.

Courses offered through APEX are chosen by our Advisory Board. The board consists of business leaders in the community who meet quarterly to support strategic planning, recommend new courses and prioritize the economic sectors critical to the community and future workforce needs.

The WILC is not designed like your typical school building. The design combines several components to create a modern workplace that includes a cafe, collaborative spaces, meeting rooms, accelerator, decompression zone and industry specific studios. All of these features were designed to meet needs of the program and provide more opportunities for students to grow their professional skills.

“For the many schools that visit or that are interested in starting a similar program, we tell them they don’t need a building.  We believe in a 1-1-1 philosophy.  All you need is 1 passionate instructor, 1 enthusiastic student, and 1 engaged business partner and you have a program,” said APEX director Michelle Hill.