|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
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Area schools targeting career education
BY BRIAN BESCH
Three school administrations from Goodrich, Coldspring and Shepherd are in the exploratory stages of providing new methods for bringing education to their students. The Career Technology Education Initiative's goal is to offer an advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, career-oriented and vocational programs to students. The project began in the third quarter of 2013, when administrators from Coldspring-Oakhurst ISD contacted Sam Houston State University's Forensics Center Director Andy Bennett to discuss the potential for expanding technology-oriented programs. A meeting hosted by Goodrich ISD and its superintendent, Dr. Guylene Robertson, on Feb. 4 began clarifying what the initiative may entail. Goodrich ISD, Coldspring ISD and Shepherd ISD attended the discussion. Dialogue furthered a few weeks ago in Huntsville on the campus of Sam Houston State University, where Bennett and a host of educators explored possibilities for the initiative. "We have an academic community engagement department that we brought in to speak to the group," Bennett said. "They found a good synergy there to tie in courses and university work into the project as a way to serve the community and a pipeline for future students to the university, potentially. We had the project-based learning center talk to them to discuss applying project-based learning to the initiative and there is a lot of interest on both sides. Then, we went over to the health college and discussed some of the proposed programs that they are working toward as ways to prepare for a program in nursing. (They found) what level would be appropriate for high schoolers and what jobs they would likely be able to work their way into and find places with internship space and residency space for high school programs." Another meeting scheduled for Friday will occur in Shepherd. Beginning this week, the initiative's goal will be to identify programs that will be feasible for the three schools. "Everybody seems to be forming their own opinions on what they think they are going to be able to do, so now it's time to start to quantify that and develop a real program that is deliverable," Bennett said. "That is what I'm going to push for this week's meeting. We are going to be looking at the Cisco Capacity Building Grant for telemedicine and rural telecommunications capacity expansion to support the project, so the three school districts will be intertwined digitally and working with one another. I am going to ask them to generate a list of potential deliverable programs that we can actually expect to see and then try to predict which ones should come online first." A few programs have been discussed in the first few opportunities for conversation. Among these are criminal justice, nursing, technology and floral design. "I am going to push very hard for the inclusion of technology," Bennett said. "I want this to be a true career and academic readiness combination. In year one, I think we will probably at least see one program at each school and I think on aggregate, with some of them spread out, we will probably five to six programs being established. They have tossed around the idea of a floral shop and that is interesting to me, but not in terms of providing floral services to the community. However, as a business simulator to get exposure to business processes, customer service, client relations management, and service delivery management, I think it is a phenomenal idea if you treated as an incubator business where the business is the educator tool and floral arrangement is an art credit. "In terms of technology, I would really like to see them take some of their students who are interested in computers and ahead of the curve and start to generate programs to get students certified in computer skills. Entry level (information technology) positions like networking and help desk provide great paths to early income generating positions with a possible career. I teach in the computer science department, so I would love to see an emphasis on computer science, web development, programming, problem solving and algorithmics." The Coldspring graduate believes there will be a mixture of students who continue their education because of the initiative and will produce others who are viable workforce participants. "Some of them, with this certification can make $15 an hour, which fresh out of high school is a lot of money," Bennett said. "They think they'll never need anything else until two years later, when it's not as much as they thought it was. Then, they are like, 'wait, a bachelor's degree gets me how much more?' So, for some of them, it is just going to be starting off thinking that I don't need to go to college and it will provide them a pathway to understanding what college is really good for. Others will go straight to college, because it is going to show them that they can do it and it is not the dilemma they've been told it was. As soon as you can change the perspective to somebody pursuing the knowledge instead of it being pushed on them, the world is their oyster in terms of accomplishments. It might be lofty, but that is my personal hopes for the program." The common goal currently is to get programs online for the fall of 2015. Items like involving the community or getting the workforce board involved to manage the project are also possibilities. "We've made forward progress and all the feedback I got from the last meeting was really positive," Bennett said. "I don't know what's going to come of the next meeting, I just know that we need to establish a baseline for what kind of programs we want to offer. I'm seeing growing excitement and the challenge is stay focused and keep the group on the same page. It's been really good and they have been a really great group to work with."