Cleveland’s Project Lead the Way Is Making a Real World Impact

In the coming decades students will join a workforce that is creative and innovative; many of them will use computers and technology to solve real-world problems. Students will need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to help them take risks, collaborate and devise solutions—proficiencies they need for college and careers.

Recognizing the importance of developing these tools for life, the open enrollment Cleveland Metropolitan Public School (CMSD) District, led by CEO (Superintendent) Eric Gordon, gives students in eight District high schools the opportunity to participate in Project Lead the Way (PLTW). PLTW, a program from a nonprofit organization that provides transformative learning experiences for students and teachers, was highlighted by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as “a great example of how [local education agencies] are leveraging federal, state and local funds to best serve children.”

Students in Project Lead the Way are excited about their studies because the classes are mainly immersive learning experiences. While they explore topics like 3-D printing and modeling, robotics, coding, digital electronics and building design, they often break into small groups and create models, construct and test machines or build robots that let them see the importance of working together and thinking critically to solve real-world problems. Projects expose them to the importance of creativity and innovation— in-demand skills they need for jobs of the future, some that have yet to be created.

CMSD Career and Technical Education Director Annette Darby said that PLTW is considered to be an elective and takes four courses to fully complete the program.  “Superintendent Gordon wanted to deliberately focus on career and technical education because it’s emphasized in The Cleveland Plan,” she said. The Plan calls for broadening access to internships, apprenticeships, applied learning, and career tech programs and preparing students to enter the workforce as well as to enroll in college, and PLTW does just that.

The Project Lead the Way program is supported by several community partners who provide funding, field trips, scholarships and internships. Some of the partners include ArcelorMittal, Rockwell Automation, Junior National Society of Black Engineers, Cleveland Water Department, Regional Information Technology Engagement Board and General Motors. These companies see the need to educate young people and encourage careers in their businesses.

Recently, while following some students who had already graduated from the PLTW program (a requirement that the state applies to local schools that use Carl D. Perkins funding for CTE STEM classes), Darby became aware of a student who had graduated from the James Ford Rhodes High School’s certified PLTW program. The student was employed and recruited by a local engineering company that has offered to pay for him to take classes leading to a college degree in engineering.

“PLTW prepares students,” Darby said. “It is very much hands-on. Students can get scholarships, earn college credit; partnerships with businesses are so important.”

Some high schools’ PLTW programs receive certification, which provides students with the opportunity to apply for college credit or receive college-level recognition at PLTW affiliate universities. So far, two of the CMSD programs have certification – James Ford Rhodes and most recently East Tech High School.

This year, the Rhodes robotics team has advanced to the VEX Robotics World Championship in Louisville, KY. This competition, now entering its 10th year, will bring together the top 1,400 student-led robotics teams from around the world.

Students today need access to real-world, applied learning experiences. Thanks to PLTW students have more opportunities to become confident, independent thinkers, ready to excel in today’s economy.


Sherry Schweitzer is a communications specialist in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

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