School dis­tricts aim to start more ca­reers

Austin, Manor dis­tricts’ train­ing academies will lead to job in­ter­views.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Melissa B. Taboada mtaboada@states­man.com

Start­ing right af­ter spring break, coun­selors and teach­ers in the Austin school district will pitch eighth-graders on a new sort of high school — one that lasts for up to six years, but ends with an in­ter­view for a job such as a cy­ber­se­cu­rity an­a­lyst with Dell Inc. or a nurse with the Se­ton Health­care Fam­ily.

Stu­dents slated to at­tend LBJ and Rea­gan high schools will get the first shot at the new academies, which will start this fall with about 70 in­com­ing fresh­men at each cam­pus.

The Ca­reer Launch pro­gram is the lat­est ef­fort to give stu­dents — mostly first-gen­er­a­tion col­lege stu­dents and those from low-in­come fam­i­lies — a chance to earn an as­so­ciate de­gree while work­ing to­ward their high school diplo­mas.

But Ca­reer Launch also will serve as a work­force train­ing pro­gram, with men­tor­ing and guar­an­teed in­ter­views for high-de­mand jobs for stu­dents who com­plete the work.

Stu­dents at Rea­gan can earn a de­gree in com­puter sci­ence with a fo­cus on cy­ber­se­cu­rity and data min­ing. Those in the LBJ pro­gram can ob­tain a de­gree in ap­plied sci­ence, spe­cial­iz­ing in nurs­ing and other health fields. Dell and Se­ton em­ploy­ees will help train and men­tor stu­dents. The jobs pay above the Austin area’s me­dian house­hold in­come of $58,000 — the av­er­age salary for a nurse in Austin is about $66,000, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics re­port.

“This opens more doors for

our kids,” Rea­gan Prin­ci­pal An­abel Garza said. “They’re ex­posed to things that they’d never be ex­posed to be­fore. Then they know it’s pos­si­ble. Kids are en­thu­si­as­tic about some­thing in their fu­ture.”

The district has been work­ing with both Dell and Se­ton, as well as Austin Com­mu­nity Col­lege and the Univer­sity of Texas to cre­ate the pro­gram.

While most classes will be of­fered at the high school in the early years, the ad­vanced course­work will likely take place at Austin Com­mu­nity Col­lege. The pro­gram lasts for up to six years, but stu­dents can com­plete it ear­lier.

“They’re not just earn­ing cer­tifi­cates in iso­la­tion but a high em­ploy­ment prob­a­bil­ity if they do what they need to do,” said Craig Shapiro, Austin’s as­so­ciate su­per­in­ten­dent of high schools. “Their ma­jor is tied to an in­dus­try in­stead of a gen­eral diploma. For those who know they want to do com­puter sci­ence and health, this is a great way for kids to get right into it.”

The Manor district, which re­cently launched an early col­lege high school at Manor High, also will of­fer a sec­ond de­gree path­way in ap­plied sci­ence. The four-year plan gives stu­dents a chance to earn spe­cial­iza­tion in au­toma­tion, ro­bot­ics and con­trols, and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion as a pro­duc­tion tech­ni­cian. Em­ploy­ees from Ap­plied Ma­te­ri­als Inc. and Sam­sung will help train and men­tor the par­tic­i­pat­ing Manor High School stu­dents.

“It’s giv­ing our kids op­tions and di­ver­si­fy­ing their skills and look­ing at a high de­mand area that is right in our back­yard,” Manor Su­per­in­ten­dent Royce Avery said. “Th­ese kids can stay right in this com­mu­nity and en­gage and be first in line to in­ter­view with th­ese two cor­po­ra­tions.”

The three cam­puses were among 19 early col­lege high schools that re­ceived state grants to es­tab­lish work­force train­ing academies on their cam­puses to bet­ter pre­pare stu­dents for post-school suc­cess, re­duce the lo­cal skills gap and cre­ate a pipe­line for lo­cal em­ploy­ment.

Each of the three schools re­ceived $400,000 in state grants to launch the pro­grams.

“This is ap­plied learn­ing at its best, de­liv­er­ing high-qual­ity tech­ni­cal prepa­ra­tion and a well-rounded course of study,” said Drew Scheberle, the Greater Austin Cham­ber of Com­merce’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent for pol­icy. “The key is the pro­gram gives grad­u­ates what they need to earn cre­den­tials that are in de­mand and pay them well when they get hired.”

The workspaces at the schools will de­part from tra­di­tional class­rooms, more re­sem­bling a work­place in a high-tech com­pany or hos­pi­tal.

LBJ, for ex­am­ple, will have med­i­cal equip­ment and hos­pi­tal beds as part of the health sci­ences train­ing, and Rea­gan will have sta­teof-the art com­put­ers and equip­ment.

“On day one, when the stu­dents walk into the class­room, what they learn has di­rect rel­e­vancy to the IT mar­ket,” said Jeremy Ford, di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate giv­ing for Dell.

Even if the stu­dents de­cide not to com­plete the pro­gram, the cur­ricu­lum will still pro­vide some cer­ti­fi­ca­tions they can use in the fields.

“One of the ob­jec­tives is what­ever the exit point for the in­di­vid­ual, they still get value out of that and can build on it,” Ford said.

Austin’s pro­grams are pat­terned af­ter the Path­ways in Tech­nol­ogy Early Col­lege High Schools, bet­ter known as P-TECH schools, that be­gan in Brook­lyn in 2011, with IBM as the work­force part­ner.

A bill filed in the Leg­is­la­ture would es­tab­lish P-TECHs in Texas, and could lead to more pro­grams like Ca­reer Launch.

RALPH BAR­RERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Rea­gan High School teacher Eric Shaf­fer as­sists stu­dents El­ton Tor­res (right) and Ale­jan­dro Fer­nan­dez (left) with their as­sign­ment — pro­gram­ming a Play-Doh joy­stick — in an In­tro­duc­tion to En­gi­neer­ing class for fresh­men that will help the stu­dents con­tinue their stud­ies in a spe­cific ca­reer plan to be of­fered by the Austin school district next fall.

Rea­gan’s Prin­ci­pal An­abel Garza senses op­ti­mism.

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