April 2017 Writer / Cindy Argentine Connections between curious students and qualified mentors. Connections between personal interests and productive projects. Connections between confident learning and dynamic living. As the Zionsville school system’s new Extended Experiences coordinator, Twyman has the job of helping students make these connections. Her program revolves around five types of experiences that can create these links: • educational travel • community service • job shadowing and internships • extended classroom experiences, and • individual exploration or “passion projects.” These five pillars are interrelated. A high school student might volunteer at a veterinary clinic, for example, which could involve job shadowing, community service, and an extension of what she learned in biology class. The Extended Experiences program began in the fall of 2016 after years of thought and research by the administration and school board. According to high school principal Tim East, the leadership saw great things happening as one-off experiences and wanted to provide more student opportunities to enrich their lives. School leaders looked at related programs in other school systems. Some provided work experience; others focused on internships; and others had a January term for in-depth pursuit of one topic. They liked pieces of different programs, so they gathered several concepts and united them into this program. As Twyman says, “Our kids are amazing. There are so many great things happening in this building. But since everyone is focused on making a dynamic right where they are, others don’t know about it. Now there’s a central person to whom you can say, ‘This is what I’m doing; this is what I need.’” One student who approached Twyman about a need is senior Katie Hamori. She had been researching how to improve a resident’s garden soil over the summer, and by the time school started, the growing season was nearly over. She spoke with Mrs. Bing, her AP Biology teacher, about her interest. Mrs. Bing told her about the new Extended Experiences program and suggested she talk to Mrs. Twyman. “And so I went and talked to Mrs. Twyman with a friend of mine and said, ‘We’ve been working on this research, and we’d like to continue it, but we don’t have anywhere to do it because we don’t have a controlled environment where we can grow plants in the winter,’” says Hamori. After that, she didn’t see Mrs. Twyman often, but one day Twyman called Katie in to tell her she had submitted a grant request to the Zionsville Education Foundation (ZEF) to buy a greenhouse. Hamori was surprised and delighted. A few weeks later, she learned that ZEF had awarded the biology department the necessary funds. Twyman’s job draws upon many roles she has served in the past including classroom teacher, principal, and guidance counselor. When students walk by her desk in the new Union – a comfortable, collegiate-style gathering space at the high school – Twyman greets them with a warm smile and a sincere, “How can I help you today?” She listens to each student’s request and looks for ways to fulfill them. One student was interested in accounting and rock-climbing. Twyman put him in touch with a colleague who is affiliated with a climbing business. Another student has a desire to minister to people in India. They are conversing about options such as a university study-abroad program or a gap year. Another young man popped in to see whether Twyman had any leads on shadowing someone in aviation engineering. She’s following up with him soon. Why does Tyman believe these types of experiences are important? “Well, it’s one thing to read about something or to dream about it or to conceptualize it intellectually. It’s another totally different ball park to roll up the proverbial sleeves and get your hands dirty with it,” Twyman says. She notes that one student who loves animals and science figured she should be a veterinarian. After working at a clinic, she discovered it wasn’t her thing. Says Twyman, “Our district believes in failing forward. We want to give students a safe, open environment in which to experiment. You can say to yourself, I don’t have to be perfect at this. The whole point of that experimentation is for you to have better self-awareness and to grow through exploration.” Twyman recognizes that the ideal connections have two parts. While getting to know students, she is also seeking mentors, employers, and organizations who would like to work with them. To build these relationships, she joined the Boone County Leadership Cohort, attended a symposium on international education, and became a member of ZWorks. “One of the start-up companies at ZWorks is looking for kids to intern in their sports marketing, and we have some very interested students in our entrepreneurial class,” she says. Twyman knows first-hand how connecting with others can lead to career growth and job satisfaction. Two personal connections were instrumental in bringing her to Zionsville. While she was in Texas, her husband, Dr. Michael Twyman, heard about “this new resource Zionsville was creating.” He told her, “You’ll never guess who the contact person is!” The contact was Tim East. Many years earlier, Twyman had worked with East at Speedway Junior High in Indianapolis. She was assistant principal while he was principal there. In the future, the school system hopes to create a certification process for this program. “We want to acknowledge that our kids will be going above and beyond in their exploration and engagement,” Twyman says. The certification could be stamped on a diploma or included in an application for college, work, or military service. Since Zionsville already offers many extended experiences (strong churches, civic clubs, Scouting troops, sports leagues, and arts programs), I asked Twyman why she thought the schools should promote these as well. “I believe it’s important because, number one, it continues to foster a community. For generations, schools have been a part of the vibrant life of the community,” she says. “In society today, school can become compartmentalized. And so, when the leadership here says, ‘Of course I’m interested in your intellectual growth, but I’m also interested in who you are a person, and the type of person that you are striving to become professionally and socially,’ that communicates to the student that we are totally on board with who you are, and that we want you to be a vibrant part of this community.” Twyman is quick to repeat that she is amazed by everything Zionsville students are already doing. She has worked in several districts in Texas and Indiana, and when she came to Zionsville, she was struck by the maturity and accomplishments of the high school students. As she walked the halls and got to know kids, she often wondered whether they realized how much they were achieving. Tim East, principal, shares a related sentiment. He fully believes in providing students with as many ways to grow as possible. His only potential concern with the new program is this: “We don’t want students to feel like they have to do it all. Many already wonder if they are doing enough. Families can decide which opportunities best meet their child’s needs. Adding this program simply allows the network of opportunities grow.” Hamori thinks having Mrs. Twyman as an additional resource is invaluable. As she says, “The best way I can describe Mrs. Twyman is to say she’s passionate about being passionate, and she’s passionate about helping students discover their passions. I hope that having this new office will influence students to get out there and be a little more active and kind of use their education to do something cool.” How You Can Get Involved If you would like to have a student shadow you in your job, work for you on a short-term internship, or assist you in a community service project, Mrs. Twyman would love to hear from you. Students have already approached her about opportunities in scientific research, engineering, business, and other fields. Her email address is email@example.com.