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It’s Thursday afternoon and Sienna Arellano, a sophomore at Niwot High School, pulls her chair up to the table alongside other Education Committee members from the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce (LACC). Around the table are educators, business owners, and local leaders. Sienna is currently serving as the committee’s full-time intern, gaining real-world experience in the management of marketing newsletters, social media campaigns, and overall project management. This opportunity strongly aligns with her current coursework and ‘primes the pump’ for future professional work.
Committee members are able to provide Sienna with strong guidance and mentorship. When she completes the internship, she will have roughly 120 hours of real-world experience translating into roughly two credits to apply toward graduation, if she so chooses.
This is one of the many work-based learning opportunities created by St. Vrain and its community partners. “Being an intern at the LACC, I have had the opportunity to meet the outstanding leaders in our community and create connections that I never would have imagined,” said Sienna. “I have learned how to use my communication, organization, and social skills to create short stories about Longmont. These skills are preparing me for my future. With every meeting, I learn something new about my community and I cherish this connection.”
WHAT IS CAREER TECHNICAL EDUCATION? WHAT IS WORK-BASED LEARNING?
Work-based learning refers to activities that take place completely - or in part - in the workplace. It is a large component of Career Technical Education (CTE). Colorado defines CTE as programming that leverages workforce and education systems to provide learners with quality work-related experiences leading to lifelong career success.
Examples of work-based learning include internships, apprenticeships, industry-sponsored projects, and clinicals to name a few. These experiences combine skill development with training opportunities and are a key strategy in Colorado for developing talent and preparing our workforce for the future labor market.
St. Vrain Valley Schools boasts some of the strongest CTE programs in the state, including its three P-TECH programs focusing on biochemistry, cybersecurity, and computer information systems. Unlike traditional classrooms, CTE courses are required to connect with designated career cluster models and be taught by individuals with relevant industry experience. These programs cater to high school students and are most prevalent at the Innovation Center and the Career Elevation and Technology Center. Programming also extends to individual high schools via P-TECH or other relevant pathways.
FOUNDATIONS IN INNOVATION
CTE and work-based learning are valuable resources for students, but this work does not simply begin in high school. In St. Vrain, these skills are nurtured as early as preschool via STEM activities, design thinking, and other academic support.
Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that integrates the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and requirements for overall success. This process involves empathizing with an audience, defining goals, preparing potential solutions, and finally developing prototypes to test with the original audience. During this process students develop various skills in communication, teamwork, professionalism, and project management – all highly sought after skills by today’s hiring managers. St. Vrain has fused these skills into its foundational curriculum and continues to support its students and staff with cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art facilities.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR CAREER-READINESS
When students progress to middle school, students and counselors work together to construct an Individualized Career Action Plan or ICAP – a multi-year process that intentionally guides students and families in the exploration of career, academic, and postsecondary opportunities. Early stages of this process involve specialized assessments that focus a student’s academic goals toward identified career clusters. Students build their career knowledge-base by participating in site visits, webinars, classroom speakers, job shadows, and summer camps. Examples of these activities include Northrop Grumman’s Cybersecurity Camp and Xilinx’s PYNQ Bootcamp.
Summer camps and job shadows are non-credit bearing activities that allow students to work with professionals in supervised situations to gain a deeper understanding of work. They are often used to transition middle school students and/or freshmen into more rigorous work-based learning, such as internships. These activities require higher levels of support from industry and district staff.
PARTNERING WITH INDUSTRY
As we’ve discussed, CTE coursework must be taught by individuals with relevant work experience, but program leaders are also required to engage industry leaders twice a year to ensure alignment with current industry standards. It’s during these gatherings that relationships are forged and more engaging work is created.
One such relationship is maintained by the Innovation Center and Anark Corporation. Over the past three years, this collaboration has produced over 20 paid interns, tasked with the quality assurance of cloud-hosting software developed by the company. In twelve months, interns were able to identify 562 software bugs. Another 115 bugs were identified by former St. Vrain interns, now employees of Anark. This amounts to 37 percent of all software bugs fixed within the year.
“An internship that involves performing meaningful work in an area of personal interest can be profoundly illuminating to students,” said Scott Collins, CTO and Cofounder, Anark Corporation. “Meaningful work in industry tends to feel more applied, with new and exciting ways to experience success.”
Colorado and national performance metrics now include work-based learning as a key metric for which school districts are held accountable. For the 2019-2020 school year, St. Vrain had 5,220 students engaged in CTE. Of that cohort, 38 percent participated in work-based learning, outperforming its state goal of 5 percent.
Early indicators point to an increase in participation for the 2020-2021 school year. To support this work, St. Vrain will do what it always does – increase support for students and staff, build strong channels of communication to share opportunities, and continue to innovate with community and industry partners.
If you are a local community or industry partner seeking to connect with our local schools and programs, we would love to engage. Please reach out to our Community Strong Team.
Learn more at communitystrong.svvsd.org