Developing K-12 Talent for the Real World

Ever since I was about 6 and filling in bubbles on a timed standardized test, I remember thinking, “Why are they having us do this?” I believe I then proceeded to get bored and fill in creative dot designs throughout the rest of my test. By age 12, I was regularly asking myself why related to so many things we were required to do both at school and for homework. Back then, I mostly kept my questions to myself and just carried on and did what I was asked to do.

Now, thirty years later, and after working as a school counselor in middle schools, high schools and colleges across the country, and currently working within the start-up industry, I am thrilled that I am not alone in asking the question why? Especially when it comes to the BIG question of talent development - Are we adequately preparing students for the “real world” through our current K-12 educational system? I mean after all, shouldn’t that be the point of K-12 education, to help people be prepared for the real world? I can happily report that today countless educators, students, millenials, entrepreneurs and parents across our nation are not only answering this question with an emphatic no, but better yet offering tried and true solutions and alternatives to our current failed system. It is essential that we help our country provide valuable methods of talent development for the real world — particularly the real work world — of today.

I am tired of complainers (myself included) so today I am offering insights to some grand solutions. Strategies for success, ideas that all of us can learn from, working solutions that we can take notes on and hopefully replicate for the sake of our children’s tomorrow.


In order to shed light on solutions, we must quickly review some key fundamentals of human development. Psychological needs refer to the mental needs that motivate a person to achieve goals and perform certain activities. They are distinct from physical needs, which have more to do with survival and remain healthy. BOTH are equally as important when it comes to rearing a child to become a capable, community-serving, healthy adult.

I was in the waiting room at our child’s doctor this week and they had a video playing on the TV about healthy living. In the video, a doctor stated that humans naturally work off of an 8–8–8 hour cycle. Sleeping about 8 hours (they said kids sleep closer to 10 hours), followed by about 8 hours of physical movement related to an activity, followed by 8 hours of a more restful state (in some cases including a nap). As I heard this healthy guidance with regards to our “nature human cycle”, I found myself awkwardly letting out a quick laugh as I was simultaneously struck by two obvious truths - 1)How correct this medical doctor’s words were; I mean we all know he is right! and 2) How absurdly off-track our society has taken ourselves from our very own healthy natural cycle. In that moment, I was keenly aware that I had just picked up my 13 year old son from 8 hours at middle school, where he sat most of the entire day first in testing (awaiting two failed attempts at the school’s administering of the PASS test due to technical difficulties) and then in class, lots of sitting. In between classes, he also had 20 minutes of sitting for lunch at an assigned table, and was now sitting in a waiting room, followed by going home to have to do some homework and before we knew it, it would be time for bed. Wow. Healthy times. And that’s just basic biological needs.

When it comes to psychological development of humans, this includes physical, cognitive, emotional, and social. And within each of those categories are countless sub-categories of equal importance to help prepare one for navigating life successfully as an adult. To name a few, we can include: sensory-motor development, goal-directed behavior, motivation, adaptation, organization, empathy skill building, various types of memory (working or short-term, long-term), executive functioning, and this list goes on.

The point here is that the basic develop of humans goes far beyond just academics, and making sure we are checking off all core curriculum items. And yet learning writing, math, science, history, computers, and language is all hugely important too! Of equal importance is helping students’ skills eventually match up with actual job opportunities in the real world as adults. The challenge of all of this is clear. And thankfully, here comes some proposed solutions!


As a military spouse for many years, I had the unique opportunity to live and work in many states including CT, PA, NJ, NY, TX, UT and now SC. I can tell you without a doubt, it is the teachers and educators across our country who know best how to help our kids develop their skills and talents. These experts need to be listened to, supported and given the ability to execute their skills and ideas. I will share a prime example of a wonderful school model in the US that truly accounts for ALL of the developmental needs I mentioned above. It is called University School of the Lowcountry (USL), and they just had their 10 year anniversary. It is a school founded and directed by an experienced educator and they use sound, scientific research to direct how they have students spend time during the week. Here is an example of a school that addresses every why I have ever asked and I encourage others to learn more about this school and it’s model:


What is the mission of University School of the Lowcountry?
“University School is an independent, co-educational, non-sectarian school that offers a challenging and individualized curriculum. It fosters high academic achievement and emphasizes balanced growth — intellectually, physically, emotionally, ethically, and socially — for every student. Within a highly supportive community, University School is committed to maintaining a caring and creative environment that encourages children to love learning, take intellectual risks, self-advocate, treat others with respect and empathy, and aspire to make a positive difference in the greater community and world.”

From 2010–2013, I coordinated this school’s job shadow day, wellness program, high school placement and testing programs and currently serve on their Board of Visitors. I have said it for years now — public schools should be taking notes from school models like this one! Their signature Learning Outside of the Classroom (LOTC) program allows kids to learn about and engage with the real world on a DAILY basis. Amazing! The students leave this school with first-hand experience and knowledge surrounding hundreds of occupations and they understand more about how day-to-day things work than most adults (the water irrigation system in our towns for example). If you are looking for solutions, visit this school’s website or better yet, visit this school — they welcome visitors and meeting people on any given day.

For my next proposed solution, we need to travel a bit further away. Early in my counseling career, I once welcomed a study abroad student from Finland to the US school where I was working at the time. She was a junior in high school, thrilled to have the opportunity to live with a family and study at an American school. She was extremely intelligent, sweet and beyond kind. I vividly recall her coming by my guidance counseling office to have an hour’s cry each day during the first month of her transition to the states. In that hour, she would not discuss her family/friends back home or feeling homesick, she instead cried about how the school days here in American schools were sooooo long! She talked about walking to school back where she lived and getting to go home most days at 1PM for lunch and rest and how she would then work again later, at a cycle that worked so well for her. Here, she was getting up too early and going to bed too late with homework and felt stuck in a seat all day long being fed information all at once — it was way too much! She was fluent in English too (making me feel like a complete nitwit). She did eventually adjust better to our schedule and stopped the daily crying. But it was our school system that simply made zero sense to her.

I always remember this student when years later, I read reports on how Finland consistently performs higher than the US and most countries when assessing things like math, science, reading and vocational talents. Below is a wonderful article shedding light on some of the vast differences in Finland’s education and ours. I realize we have a drastically different population in this country, however, it is food for thought on what is working wildly well and could most certainly be adapted to fit the unique educational needs of the US. Finland operates on a less-is-more philosophy. Take a look…

I worry that a lot of you are already noticing a trend here and maybe saying to yourself , “So far her samples of school models that work are either examples of independent schools or are schools so far away from my own reality!” Well, in that case, I am right there with you. I attended public schools growing up, my parents are now retired public school teachers and both of my own kids (now ages 15 and 13) attend public schools with wonderful educators who share many of the same concerns we are having as parents, students, hiring managers, and community members. The ones who are most concerned are the ones who are most informed about how our children are currently being developed here in the states — not so well prepared for the real world!

Along with the above mentioned issues, there is a growing trend recently in the US of quick-fix, short-sighted plans to help “fix” many complex issues and with that has come a whole host of quick-fix, short-sighted tests (many which turn out to be unreliable and simply not valid) which have been poorly implemented in our public schools. Teachers, administrators and students are currently the victims in all of this over-testing nonsense and we all know this is not working. It is making the problems worse and it is leading to the lowest morale possible within the profession of teaching — just try to imagine for a second this trickle effect on kids. Better yet, go through a full school day as a kid would (ask to shadow) and see for yourself how it feels. One standardized test annually makes sense. Three or more standardized tests several times a year, taking up weeks of valuable educational time, does not make sense!

Most schools are public in the US and funded by taxpayers dollars. I read a recently shared post from D_Tron indicating that it is lawmakers who decide that schools are required to purchase tests from testing companies. Many times these testing companies get government-mandated infusions of taxpayers dollars and then get their executives to give “campaign contributions”. Politicians don’t want the real experts, grades K-12 teachers, talking about this, because the tests put money in the lawmakers pockets. This makes one wonder.

I have recently looked into what we can all do about this, to help change things for the better in our public schools, for the purpose of giving our educators support to be able to develop children fully, to meet today’s needs of the modern workforce and the modern world.

I recommend you ask your child’s teacher or principal in your area where you can voice your concerns and even better, offer solutions, if you want to impact change. I recently did this at my child’s school in SC and received a very helpful response. Here is the response for anyone looking for a way to help here in SC:

“Since the requirement for all assessments to be given is a law, you would need to voice your concerns to the members of the General Assembly. The following has some information that might be helpful. Also, the State Department website has direct officials’ contact information so you can reach out to those who are representing your area: http://www.scstatehouse.gov/legislatorssearch.php

There is also a new group called EdFirstSC, which has recently become very active by a group of expert teachers, educated parents and concerned community members who want to help pave the way for better K-12 talent development into the future. Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/edfirstsc/

I have been hearing people say things such as “I suspect the schools simply don’t care” and that makes me realize that there is a collective feeling of learned helplessness among too many people and we need to turn this into active movement towards change. We need to learn what K-12 school models are working and help the public schools move towards these models. The teachers and students are trying their very best — but the rest of us need to get educated, help support them, and collectively take responsibility for the successful development of our people. Keep asking why and please share your solutions!