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Career certifications a graduation option in Lee

More than 80 programs offered in high school, with expansion to fifth grade, middle school to roll out

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Nov 11, 2020

news@breezenewspapers.com

The Lee County School District offers more than 80 Career & Technical Education programs for high school students, and has expanded to offer programs for fifth grade and middle school students.

Adult & Career Education Director Rita Davis said she was honored to take on the director roll in 2015. She said at that time there were five employees for CTE and their primary focus was industry certifications with only CTE programs at the high schools.

CTE has now expanded to elementary school fifth grades through the Excellent Career Exploration Lab bus.

“The EXCEL bus is rolling out in January,” Davis said, adding that she has much gratitude to the transportation department which donated a bus to make the project happen.

The bus includes five kiosks, giving fifth graders an opportunity to board the vehicle and experience different industries.

“We are very excited . . . it allows elementary students to start thinking about their career,” Davis said.

In addition, elementary schools have their own career days as students should begin thinking about careers as early as fifth grade.

At the middle school level, students take a career aptitude and interest profile, an assessment.

Davis said they are creating connections to the community and bringing additional services into the classroom. Middle school students have the opportunity to obtain “junior” certifications and industry certifications in such fields as agriculture, culinary arts, digital design and coding.

In high school there are currently more than 80 Career & Technical Education programs. There are internships, career dual enrollment, career panels, industry certifications, technical competitions and work-based learning experiences for high school students.

Davis said they want students to continue post graduation into technical colleges, the workforce, military, either a two-year college or four-year university, or owning their own business.

The Career & Technical Education is made possible through the Perkins grant, which Davis said is their primary supplemental funding source at just under $1 million. The money is spread through its programs to equal $58 per student.

“We really stretch those dollars,” she said. “We are very grateful for this funding. We had to go through a year-long application process and that process started last July.”

To receive funding for the grant, Davis said their programs now have to meet certain requirements and must be aligned to the labor market. She said the grant only funds 36 programs through the Perkin dollars, as they met the size, scope, quality and labor market alignment requirements.

The Wednesday afternoon school board presentation then shifted gears to talk about what has been taking place with CTE during the pandemic. She said she and her team looked at what they could do holistically to help the program go virtual.

Davis said they issued additional soft skill curriculum, as well as taking face-to-face resources and making them available virtually. They made 170 out of 194 CTE courses Lee Home Connect compatible in the first semester.

In addition, there are office hours twice a week, and exams held remotely to help capture additional certifications.

The presentation then highlighted the Career & Technical Education’s next steps, which Davis said was the “fun part for us. We love to be creative.”

New this year, were the Virtual Career Panels held in October. The program offered career visits in the classroom, where they “Zoomed in” and students from around the district could participate. The first panel’s topic was about agriculture.

A program, which was held Wednesday, Nov. 4, Engineering Day, was deemed a great success. Davis said they had 91 participants, 70 of which were students, as well as 14 guest speakers and 15 post secondary representatives. In addition there were a dozen engineering firms that participated and six high schools.

“It was done virtually on Zoom,” she said. “They had break out rooms and asked questions. It was absolutely wonderful. It keeps our kids connected to the workforce.”

A goal for Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins was also included in the presentation, a career advisory board, which now has 44 members. Davis said the goal of the board is to weigh in if the academies are working and are sustainable, as well as if there needs to be new academies added.

The CTE department also is looking into equity and access analysis, which should be completed in December.

“We got a report back from the DOE that we do an incredible job,” Davis said. “Now we want to look at level one and two readers and ELL students to make sure every child is enrolled in courses.”

Other next step areas include ACE Your Week Podcast geared towards encouraging adult education students to seek employment or get their GED; Train to Gain with Southwest Florida Enterprise Center, which includes an summer internship; Workforce Signing Day, which recognizes students that went directly into the workforce; Building Construction Summer Internship Program with Lee BIA; Entrepreneurship Grant with LEE BIA, as well as an Agri-Business Event sent for November 2021.

The 2021 event is a Farm to City concept, highlighting the agriculture that makes up Southwest Florida.

Another area that Davis was excited about was the LCSD Apprenticeship. After the district did not receive a hoped-for grant, they changed course and decided to create a Lee County School District Apprenticeship.

“What this could do is improve the earning potential of our employees, our community and it brings revenue back to the district because it is seat time for us,” she said.