LA CROSSE, Wis. -- "I probably hire ten blue collar workers for every one white collar worker," said Mark Glendenning, Inland Label and Marketing CEO.
Glendenning says he has jobs, but he needs to hire people who are trained to do the work.
"I was disappointed with what seems to be a push for everybody to go to college," said Glendenning, and really a lack of vocational or engineering-based or technical-based education."
In an effort to reach students who may not want to attend a four-year institution, Glendenning started having a conversation with the School District of La Crosse about the need for a new type of education. Longfellow Middle School Principal Penny Reedy reached out.
"Penny... was already going down the path of this project based learning," said Glendenning.
And it's now taking place at the La Crosse Design Institute which is housed within Longfellow Middle School.
"The La Crosse Design Institute really concentrates on skill sets for students," said Reedy. "Not only is it a design school in terms of maybe a student will be designing a new skateboard, maybe a student will design a new fan or new parts for a computer. It doesn't necessarily have to be science and mathematics."
In fact, the students can design anything that interests them. Each student just has to make sure their design project meets the standards required for 7th and 8th graders by the School District of La Crosse.
"These are skills that future employers are looking for," said Nick Pretasky, teacher advisor, La Crosse Design Institute. "And we need to develop these skills... problem solving, accountability and understanding their own learing."
For Eighth grader Colten Jaekel, managing his own time and school work is easy because he is able to chose projects that motivate him.
"The nice part about choosing your own project is instead of just covering history, you get to cover history and science and how those two come together," said Jaekel. "And that's something you have to do in the real world."
"On top of that all, we're working right now with area businesses so that they're (the students) out in the business area once a week working on these design projects," said Reedy.
"The research tells us that students who have an authentic audience tend to achieve higher," said Pretasky. "We don't want students just to do projects for their teacher or just to do projects for that A or B. But we want them to do projects that are bettering their community, bettering their role in their community, and to give them an understanding of what might be next for them."
So by providing an office-style atmosphere as a classroom and giving students the opportunity to manage their own interdisciplinary projects, the students are learning how the working world works.
"For me to see kids understand that those subjects have importance beyond memorization... that they have application to life is incredibly important," said Glendenning.