Wyoming Is Ready to Work: Bus Tour Day Three

Town Hall at Laramie County Community College

Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier, Under Secretary Kanter and Chief of Staff Weiss joined Laramie County Community College President Joe Schaffer for a community town hall. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Rock Springs: Celebrating career academies

A four-year college education isn’t for everyone. Both President Obama and Secretary Duncan often note the importance of community colleges, technical and career programs to the future of our country’s economic health. Earlier this year, the Administration proposed a new blueprint for transforming career and technical education (CTE) that would dedicate $1 billion to provide high-quality job-training opportunities that reduce skill shortages and spur business growth.

The CTE blueprint would also expand career academies by 3,000, which brings us to Friday’s first back-to-school bus tour event at Rock Springs High School in Rock Springs, Wyo. Rock Springs High has two career academies, one focused on energy the other on health care. Career academies combine college-prep work and career and technical curricula, and help prepare students to continue their education at the postsecondary level and for successful careers.

Under Secretary Martha Kanter, Chief of Staff Joanne Weiss and Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier toured Rock Springs’ academies and held a roundtable with school officials, teachers and students.

After hearing from former Rock Springs’ students how the academies prepared them for careers after high school, Kanter noted that Rock Springs is an “island of excellence,” and also praised the students and school for having so many girls in the energy program and interested in engineering. (Young women are commonly under-represented in science, technology, engineering and math programs.) After boarding the bus for our next stop, we all commented how inspired we were by Rock Springs, and how important it is that these model programs not remain islands, but rather expand throughout the country.

Read more about this visit from Chief of Staff Joanne Weiss.

Rawlins: Positive developments in distance learning

Following our visit to Rock Springs, the Education Drives America bus rolled on to the Carbon County Higher Education Center in Rawlins, Wyo. In this rural area, the Center is improving education opportunities through the use of distance learning.  Kanter and Weiss joined Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach John White for a roundtable discussion with school officials, teachers, parents, students and business leaders.

Kanter asked the group what they viewed as their biggest challenges. One teacher noted that there is a great need for technological infrastructure and support, and a local energy business leader explained that students aren’t coming out of high school with the necessary skills to work for his company.

ED leadership tour a wind turbine

Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier and Under Secretary Kanter climbed inside a wind turbine after the town hall. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

We could see that bringing business and school leaders together was an important step in this bus tour stop, and we look forward to seeing exciting new public-private partnerships in this area of Wyoming.

Cheyenne: Linking education and jobs

The Education Drives America bus made its final stop of the week at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne. Surrounded by massive wind turbines, Kanter, Weiss and Dann-Messier held a town hall to discuss the important link between education and jobs. The trio fielded a variety of questions, and Kanter spoke to the importance of community colleges while Dann-Messier noted that Laramie was an example of how public-private partnerships are helping students and the local economy.

See what people were saying on Twitter during day three, and watch this video summary of our day in Wyoming:

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

The bus parked over the weekend and will be back on the road Monday when Secretary Duncan rejoins the tour in Denver. Get email updates about the tour by signing up here.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital engagement and is blogging and tweeting his way from coast to coast during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

Wyoming Career Academy Feeds Local Demand for Energy and Health Care Workers

Roundtable discussion at Rock Springs High School

The roundtable discussion at Rock Springs High School highlighted the school's career academies. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

In Wyoming, where the Education Drives America tour stopped Sept. 14, the career academy at Rock Springs High School is a model worth shouting about, because it graduates students who are truly both college and career ready.

There are two academies at Rock Springs – energy and health care – both carefully selected in consultation with local businesses to reflect the economic needs of Sweetwater County and the surrounding region. In Wyoming, the energy sector is vibrant – coal, natural gas, wind, and even uranium. And health care is a huge need in every community. So the decision about where to start was clear. Plans are in place to add two new academies in the next couple of years.

The students take all of the required core high school courses they need for college entry. But they also take a full complement of courses in their “academy.” So, from sophomore year on, science, English, etc. are theme-focused. There are specialized courses as well – many taught together with the local community college, so students get dual credit.

 Every student does internships, and the internships are intense (and represent a big commitment from community members who are shadowed) – juniors and seniors are there every single week. The experience is rich. Interns get a deep sense of the workplace and establish connections and relationships that are meaningful and lasting. Most of the kids we talked to had gotten part-time paying jobs with people they had shadowed.
The teachers had a shared sense of mission. They were science teachers using career and technical education to make their teaching relevant. As one terrific teacher said, “In fields like health care and energy that require math and science, we have to show kids they can do this. We have to make math and science accessible. And we have to provide kids with places where it’s safe to fail – or they’ll never know they can succeed.”

One student said, “I didn’t realize I was interested in health care at all until I started at the career academy. I shadowed a nurse practitioner and now I have a job anytime I’m home for breaks. I’m studying to be a nurse.”

A parent told us about her son who earned a phlebotomy certificate as part of his health academy education. He’s now pre-med and is working his way through college being a phlebotomist–by far a higher paying job than he’d otherwise get, and it’s related to his field of study.

Another parent told us that her son is severely hard of hearing and that the health academy had opened a new world for him and changed his life trajectory. He’d only thought of health care professionals as doctors or nurses. But in the Rock Springs program, he was able to experiment with different options and find jobs that he could do well. “He’s a whole new person now,” she said, “empowered, and with a direction.”

An energy academy graduate, who’s now a freshman in college, said, “I have so much confidence and a direction about what I want to do with my future. I know so much [from high school] that I have a little bit of an advantage over the other kids in my college class.”

As a teacher concluded, “If each of us teaching in K-12 isn’t educating kids for a career, what are we in this for? Academic and career teaching and learning need to be on the same level of importance, and go hand-in-hand.”

Joanne Weiss is Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education