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Through Externship Takatsuka Says He's Better Able to Connect with Students - from The Messenger

October 13, 2016

By CHAD THOMPSON

Ryan Takatsuka, a social studies teacher at Fort Dodge Senior High, spent almost 40 hours of his summer in the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility.

That time wasn't spent in cuffs or behind bars, though.

Takatsuka was completing a teacher externship program in an effort to bring real-world knowledge and experience back to his classroom.

"The correctional facility related well to my American government, sociology and psychology courses," Takatsuka said. "It gives me personal experiences to draw from and provide connections and examples to my classes, which is essential for students to make learning interesting and meaningful."

The externship program is done through a partnership with Iowa Central Community College, the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, and local businesses with the goal of placing teachers in a workplace setting so they can learn more about the skills needed for certain jobs and opportunities that are available for students.

An externship is a continuation of training for someone who is already employed, whereas an internship is training for someone seeking employment, according to Takatsuka.

"The idea is to put them in the workplace to observe and get hands-on experience and relate it back to their instruction," said Samantha Pingel, a specialist at Iowa Central who co-created the program with Ryan Flaherty, regional administrator for Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency.

The experience is ultimately for the benefit of the students, but Takatsuka said all parties involved have something to gain.

"Teachers gain financially (a stipend of up to $4,800), students gain from better guidance into their career paths, Iowa Central gains students more confident in their educational choices, the local businesses get better prospective candidates to hire, and every group is able to network throughout the community for better relations and expanding future opportunities," he said.

In order to be selected for the externship, Takatsuka had to submit a resume, cover letter and go through a job interview as if he was actually trying to get a job, according to Pingel.

"Externs are also required to complete a journal about different skill sets, why they (in this case the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility) hire who they do, and what they are looking for from employees and just learning the daily routine," Pingel said.

Takatsuka, who has been teaching at FDSH for six years, picked the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility for the simple reason that he didn't know much about it, he said.

The experience was not one he expected.

On an average day, he showed up, exchanged his ID for a visitor's badge in the reception area and waited for an employee to come get him, he said.

He was escorted through the facility at all times by an employee.

"We were actively amongst offenders at nearly all times, and yet due to the mutual respect between inmates and staff, I never felt like my safety was in jeopardy," he said. "Nearly every day we would have impromptu conversations with offenders, which really highlighted the few differences between them and people on the outside."

Takatsuka came away impressed with the operations of the facility.

"This was not a dismal place for predators," he said. "It was a place of continued guidance and support helping people who have made mistakes. It was an opportunistic and beneficial place of employment, and every employee felt as though they had job mobility, a positively conducive working environment, and a real sense of purpose in helping others."

The experience also showed him the number of job opportunities available in the area.

For instance, the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility employs about 300 people, he said.

Aside from a correctional officer, other jobs include counselors, unit managers, nurses, food service jobs, activities coordinators and teachers.

He said the activities coordinator or teacher positions might appeal to someone who is interested in those types of jobs, but do not wish to teach in a school setting.

"A food service coordinator position, for example, offers desirable benefits and salary for the many students who have already gained experience working at restaurants or grocery stores and does not require a degree," he said.

The experience was an opportunity for Takatsuka to continue his own education.

"Many educators become educators because we love to be learners, but once in the educational field, continued learning can become difficult due to time and financial obligations," he said.

But because the externship was in the summer, he was able to gain the learning experience.

"The experience also gave me something that we as humans should always continue to gain," he said. "New perspectives."

Seeing how inmates were handled has given Takatsuka a new understanding of difficulties some students may face.

"There is a lot of connections with students who may be on the same path and are exhibiting similar behaviors," he said. "This experience will hopefully allow me to better connect with students, so I can guide them into avoiding ending up making choices that may end them up in jail or prison."

He also said the externship cleared up some misconceptions about prisons.

"Just because we are educators does not necessarily mean we know everything," he said, "and this experience showed me how much my perception of the correctional field is based on misconceptions. Shows and movies like 'Orange is the New Black,' 'OZ' and 'Prison Break' are a far cry from the reality of the corrections field."

For Takatsuka, whose parents both taught at FDSH for more than 30 years, teaching has long been a personal passion.

"Even as a child, people would constantly be approaching my parents, chatting with them, laughing, and always walking away with a smile," he said. "Once I was older, I began to listen, really listen to what my parents and these strangers were conversing about - the many memories, discussion of classmates, and words of appreciation expressing the impact my parents had made on their lives."

Now, Takatsuka teaches in the same classroom that his mother once taught in and is focused on making a difference, much like his parents.

"Based on the way I felt and the way I interacted with students, I knew I wanted to be a teacher for as long as I could," he said. "I knew I could make a difference."

The externship has helped him understand students on another level.

"This externship has allowed me even more insight to others and allows me to continue to connect, empathize and engage my students to encourage the utmost of their social and academic abilities," he said.

Teachers from East Sac County High School, Southeast Valley High School, Manson Northwest Webster, as well as FDSH, have participated in the externship program.

"Through externship, Takatsuka says he's better able to connect with students" The Messenger 13 Oct 2016: A1

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