Brenda Shields wasted no time after getting elected to her first term in the Missouri Legislature.
The Republican state representative from St. Joseph is one of 62 freshman members in the House. Despite her newcomer status, Shields is quickly capturing attention and praise from both sides of the aisle following the passage of her bill to create certified teacher “externships” in Missouri. The program aims to prepare educators for real-world careers that are available for the students they teach.
“It will bring teachers into businesses for a significant amount of time during the summer so they can actually learn what they are training their students to become,” Shields said.
Shields said it’s what she heard on the campaign trail that motivated her to move on the measure.
“Businesses would continuously tell me that we don’t have the workforce that we need,” she said. “We don’t have them prepared.”
A former educator with the St. Joseph School District, Shields said it’s vital to reach students early on and to explain to them, “what they’re learning and how that’s going to benefit them later in life, so that they can have the mindset and resources for the careers that lie ahead.”
The freshman lawmaker told News-Press NOW that students aren’t the only ones unequipped for today’s workforce.
“I would be talking to other teachers and they really didn’t understand what they were training these students to do,” Shields said.
She admits to being a math geek while in school.
“Math is what I really enjoyed,” she said. “And I would ask all of my teachers what I should do when I grow up and they would all tell me I need to be an educator.”
Shields said that it wasn’t until college and her first job at Quaker Oats that she recognized opportunities, outside of the classroom, in which she could apply her math skills to.
The legislation, which passed the House by a vote of 152-4, coincides with a priority of Gov. Mike Parson: workforce development. It’s a priority also shared by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a Republican who represents Shields’ district in the upper chamber.
With time running out to pass the externship bill in the Senate, Shields said the senator, himself a freshman legislator, jumped in to make sure it got to governor’s desk.
“Sen. Luetkemeyer picked up the bill in the Senate and added it to another education bill,” said Shields, who complemented the great working relationship between all members of the St. Joseph delegation, including Luetkemyer, Sen. Dan Hegeman and Reps. Sheila Solon and Bill Falkner, all Republicans.
Gov. Parson has until July 14 to sign or veto the legislation.
Though Shields is a new to Jefferson City, her husband Charlie is not. The latter served in the Missouri House from 1991 to 2002 before representing Buchanan County in the Senate from 2002 until 2010.