Cedar Valley is Defined by Career-Focused Education

Education is defined by a deeper knowledge and understanding of a variety of subjects throughout life. One variable that influences your education is your location. To monitor the value of state education, states are ranked for educational opportunities and performance in three categories: a chance for success, school finance, and K-12 achievement. 

Chances for Success

Ranking chance for success analyzes the role education plays in promoting positive outcomes across an individual’s lifetime in that state. There are 13 indicators, including how educated are the parents, what share of 3-4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool, are K-12 students proficient in reading and math, what is the high school graduation rate, and what percentage of adults have steady employment. As of 2020, Iowa receives a B in this category ranking in the top third of states.

School Finance

Iowa Education ScoresSchool finance examines aspects of school spending patterns and equity in the distribution of funding across districts in each state. Spending patterns are assessed by what the state spends per pupil when adjusted for regional cost differences, what percent of students are in districts with per-pupil spending at or above the U.S. average, and what share of total taxable resources are spent on education among others. To assess equity in distribution analytics are gathered from questions such as: to what degree does funding for property-poor districts differ from that of their wealthy counterparts and how different are the spending levels of the highest and lowest spending district.

Locally, Cedar Valley high schools rank high compared to the 339 public high schools in Iowa. Comparing chance for success, school finance, and K-12 achievement to public schools in Iowa, Cedar Falls High School receives 26th place, Waverly-Shell Rock receives 31st, Hudson receives 32nd, and many others shine because of the opportunities they provide to students. 

Luckily for the Cedar Valley, we have multiple opportunities for engaging, hands-on career-focused education at a K-12 level such as Cedar Valley CAPS, Iowa Big North, Leader Valley, and the Waterloo Career Center.


Cedar Valley CAPS

Cedar Falls CAPs

Member Monday career conversations.

The Cedar Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CV CAPS) program is an innovative high school elective course that takes students outside of the traditional classroom to focus on career exploration and real-world business practices. There are six schools that have CAPs programming: Cedar Falls CAPS, Jesup CAPS, Denver CAPS, Don Bosco CAPS, Columbus CAPS, and Wapsie Valley CAPS. Students in CAPS, called associates, leave the classroom for half of their day for an entire semester. In that time they are immersed in professional environments to develop problem-solving and professional skills and work on real projects for business clients around the Cedar Valley. CAPS works with a set of diverse clients including, the City of Cedar Falls, Cedar Falls Utilities, Invision Architecture, Omega Cabinetry, Sidecar Coffee, Viking Pump, and more.

Cedar Falls CAPs

Associates presenting a showcase for project Geater.

The experience along with focused development on career exploration helps prepare each student-associate for their purpose beyond life as a student.  Associates are learning to create and expand their professional network, improve their time management, project management, communication, and technical skills, and develop a better understanding and exposure to a professional work environment.

CAPS associate Greta Heistad states, “with programs like the CCAPS programs it’s not just about a bunch of teenagers going and doing grownup jobs. It is about training the next generation of workers that are going to come to those companies”.  CAPS is an example of how business, community, and education can partner to produce personalized learning experiences that educate the workforce of tomorrow, especially in high skill, high demand jobs. This program is also available in many schools across the Cedar Valley.


Iowa Big North

Iowa Big North

Iowa Governor Reynolds poses with Iowa Big North Students.

Inspired by Iowa BIG in Cedar Rapids, Iowa BIG North is a coalition of students, originally from four regional high schools in the Cedar Valley who work with local businesses helping them to evaluate problems and find the solution or work with internal, student-driven initiatives. Since August 2016, approximately 350 students have participated in the program and continue to help shape our local economies. 

Iowa Big Norht

Students meet with an instructor on a project.

Iowa BIG North — “BIG” being an acronym for “Big Ideas Group” — promotes work-based learning opportunities through school and business partnerships. Mike Kuennen, Facilitator at Iowa BIG North, states the young adults who participate at Iowa BIG North are “co-designers of their learning”. Leaders at Iowa BIG North help students take what interests them and mold it into a valuable, hands-on learning experience that meets required course standards and expectations. By allowing students to choose what they are interested in, Iowa BIG North creates a high degree of choice, autonomy, and responsibility that students need in real-world experiences.

Iowa BIG North encourages students to engage in real community problems and issues preparing them for life outside of high school. Experts located in the community work with students to develop, practice, and enhance their professional skills while fostering connections and relationships.


Leader Valley

Leader Valley

Leader Valley promotes Leader in Me program across elementary schools including St. Patrick Catholic School.

Leader Valley is a business-education partnership that works to develop the leadership skills of  Cedar Valley students. With the belief that all students in the Cedar Valley deserve authentic learning and leadership opportunities, Ledar Valley implements the Leader in Me program across multiple schools in the area. Leader in Me embeds the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, identifies gifts and talents of all students, and provides authentic and meaningful roles and opportunities to learn about leadership while developing essential soft skills such as management, human resources, communication, and more. 

Leader Valley prepares Pre-K-12 students for life by providing them with the essential soft skills needed for a life of effectiveness and competitive advantage in the workforce. These skills are achieved through high levels of community collaboration and fostering strong partnerships among Cedar Valley businesses, Pre-K-12 schools, and higher education organizations. With these local businesses, Ledar Valley provides financial and programmatic support to their initiative, Leader in Me, currently practiced in six school systems. Leader in Me is currently implemented in 23 schools– 17 elementary schools, one K-8 building, 5 middle schools, 1 high school, and 1 K-12 system. Reaching 11,000 students and 1,500 educators, Leader Valley strives to provide leadership opportunities to more schools in the Cedar Valley.


Waterloo Career Center

Waterloo Career Center

Web & Mobile students learning about career opportunities and engaging experiences from community business leaders.

At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, the Waterloo Career Center opened offering only two programs; nursing and digital graphics, to high school students in efforts to encourage and enhance their education. Since then the Waterloo Career Center has expanded its location and now offers 18 different programs including advanced manufacturing, digital interactive media, electrical, entrepreneurship/finance, IT web programming and development, K-12 Educator Preparation, and more.

By working formally and informally with over 100 Cedar Valley businesses the Waterloo Career Center (WCC) provides students with job shadowing opportunities, paid internships, quality pre-apprenticeships, and registered apprenticeships. Jeff Frost, WCC Executive Director states, students are able to make the most out of their high school experience by discovering their passion in a supportive environment all while learning technical skills and professional lessons giving them a competitive advantage in today’s economy.

Waterloo Career Center

PK-12 Teacher Prep program in Multicultural Ed sharing their own published work about life stories with WWC’s Early Childhood Development Program.

Waterloo Career Center’s mission is to give students the opportunity to explore careers with hands-on experiences helping them develop a competitive advantage to the lifestyle they want. Providing these opportunities increases high school graduation and attendance rate, advances to post-secondary educational institutions or careers related to the pathway, increases student engagement and improves the value of education. Since opening WCC has saved students over $1.25 million in college tuition and is working towards opening 12 new programs for the 2023-24 school year resulting in up to 30 different and distinct pathway programs.

By understanding the importance of a quality hands-on education experience, organizations such as the Waterloo Career Center, Iowa BIG North, Leader Valley, and CF CAPS provide immeasurable opportunities for students to explore their passion in a real-world environment.

Learn more about K-12 education in the Cedar Valley.

Live the Valley

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