Smith-Cotton preparing for new professional studies program

Smith-Cotton High School is taking some of its first steps toward implementing the new Center
for Advanced Professional Studies program.

Sedalia School District 200 announced last week the Board of Education hired S-C
engineering teacher Michael Wright as the first director of the CAPS program; earlier this year,
the board gave overall approval to start the program.

According to a news release, CAPS provides profession-based learning and skill development
while also encouraging the building of an entrepreneurial mindset. Wright will spend the 2023-
24 school year creating curriculum and building community and district partnerships. The
program will begin with the 2024-25 school year.

A new teacher will be hired to take over Wright’s engineering classes, but he will remain head
coach of Team SCREAM, the Smith-Cotton competitive robotics program.

“The CAPS model, really in a lot of ways, changes the way education’s done,” Wright said. “It’s
less classroom instruction and more partnerships with local industries and real-world and
professional environments that the students go into. A lot of it has to do with us establishing relationships with local businesses and partners and providing opportunities for our students to work alongside professionals on a day-to-day basis. Those can look like internships, mentorships, they could be client projects.”

Wright said he was attracted to the new position because he’s seen firsthand through his work
with Team SCREAM how professional connections with mentors and sponsors can benefit

“We are already doing a lot of the things the CAPS model is about here in the engineering
department and our different technical education departments,” Wright said. “… I wanted to be
part of something that provides more of that for our students. There are so many opportunities
out there. … That’s the part that I’m familiar with and I’m excited to continue building
relationships with the community.”

It’s those connections, plus his time as director of the Career & Technology Center at State Fair
Community College, that makes Wright the best candidate for the job, according to S-C
Principal Wade Norton.

“He’s a proven leader with students and with fellow adults, and that’s a skill that this position is
going to need because they’ll have to connect with adults in the community and students,”
Norton added.

Over the next year, Wright will help determine the Sedalia program’s strands – focus areas
such as engineering, health care or entrepreneurship – hire teachers and establish
partnerships. Wright and Norton said the program will be hosted by S-C, but students from
smaller area districts will be able to participate.

Norton said Sedalia will be a hybrid CAPS model, with some classes taking place at S-C and
some opportunities happening at businesses.

“It’s professional opportunities, from networking to building durable skills, communication,
problem-solving, teamwork, becoming aware of the great opportunities that our community
has,” Wright said.

CAPS was launched in 2009 in the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kansas. Since
then, it has expanded to become a nonprofit organization with 96 affiliate programs across 170
school districts in 23 states, plus three international programs.

CAPS has five core values: profession-based learning, professional skills development, self-
discovery and exploration, entrepreneurial mindset, and responsiveness. Corey Mohn,

President and Executive Director of the CAPS Network, said the programs are meant to be
tailored to each community’s needs.

“There’s a chance to see how others are getting there, learn what can apply in my community
or what would never work here,” Mohn said. “To make it sustainable, it’s not everyone doing
the same thing and they’re not forced to do it one way. We’re support and a framework,
coaching, but we’re interested in local action and design around our core values with local

Mohn said CAPS hosts an open forum on Zoom for affiliates to share information and inspire
each other. Norton and Wright took part this week and heard from programs across the
country. While the focus is on local partnerships, the network will also allow Wright to reach out
to the nonprofit when a student expresses interest in a particular area that may fit a national

Mohn said many students have the assumption that their career path will be a straight line, but
that’s rarely the case. CAPS allows students to get exposed to their options, a chance to
determine what they like, or don’t like.

Mohn said he sees the program’s overall purpose and benefit as providing students with
opportunities for self-discovery and empowerment. They can learn more about themselves
while working on projects that have the potential for real impact, branching outside the
traditional classroom education.

“What’s super exciting about Sedalia joining is students will have the option in front of them to
feel that empowerment, take on responsibility, learn about themselves, deploy in the
community, and go out and undoubtedly make the world a better place,” Mohn said.
Wright noted S-C has numerous programs, such as the engineering department, DECA, FBLA,
HOSA and JAG, that are already closely aligned with the CAPS model. Launching CAPS will
help bring all of those efforts under one umbrella.

“We’ve got all these individual programs and to be honest, those programs have really been
school-based, and they have had small connections with the community,” Norton continued.
“Sometimes we reach out for donations, sometimes you reach out for mentors with robotics,
have a doctor come talk to HOSA. But again, we’ve been bringing in the real world to the
school and it’s not real. Now, our job is to take all the stuff we’re doing and give these kids the
opportunity to grow, learn and fail in the real world with these people within their fields.”
Norton said they want to talk with professionals in avenues like health care and economic
development to find the missed opportunities and fill those gaps with CAPS, showing students
there are viable career options close to home.

“My goal is to refill our town with Smith-Cotton graduates … so it’s not so hard for all our
businesses to find people,” Norton said. “I think everyone who graduates from Smith-Cotton
says, ‘I’m never coming back here,’ like I did, but my goal is for them to come home.”

This article was originally published by the Sedalia Democrat.