County celebrates first class of career program
Obama initiative sends 44 students to higher education careers
Highlighting the accomplishments of students who participated in the Prince George’s County Youth CareerConnect Program at Bladensburg High and Fairmont Heights High schools, Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Jim Coleman and County Executive Rushern L. Baker (D) joined officials from Prince George’s County Pub- lic Schools to honor the program’s first graduating class on May 11 at Prince George’s Community College’s Largo Student Center in Largo.
The CareerConnect program is part of President Barack Obama’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiative which encourages America’s school districts, institutions of higher education,
the workforce investment system and their partners to integrate rigorous educational standards with work experiences and skills in ways that enhance instruction and deliver real-world learning opportunities for students. Through the program, students not only have access to individualized career and college counseling designed to improve the attainment of industry-recognized credentials and preparation for college-level course work, but also have the ability to receive postsecondary credit while still in high school and will have access to paid work experiences with employer partners such as Lockheed Martin. Overall, the program will help prepare 2,500 graduates at Bladensburg High and other schools across the county to succeed academically and graduate career-ready in the high-demand fields of information technology and health care, according to a program fact sheet from the White House website.
“The Youth CareerConnect Program is a grant [worth $7 million] that we received from the U.S. Department of Labor [about two years ago] when President Obama came to Bladensburg High School and made a great announcement that three of our [high] schools — Bladensburg, Fairmont Heights and Potomac — would be recipients,” said Lateefah Durant, an academic officer for Prince George’s County Public Schools’ College and Career Readiness and Innovative Programs Department. “The grant, the way we designed it, is actually supporting career academies in those three schools. So it supports the [IT] academy at Fairmont Heights, the health and biosciences program at Bladensburg as well as our homeland security program, with an IT focus, at Potomac.”
Durant said the goal is to make sure students are able to graduate college and career ready — that means they can either earn certifications in their field of study and go straight into the workforce right after high school, or use that skill set toward their higher education goals.
“We’ve also provided the support with our partners to help them with any other socioemotional needs they may have, test preparation, internship opportunities, mentoring and so forth. We just want to make sure that they have a very well-rounded experience while in high school. That’s the work that we’ve been doing through Youth CareerConnect and we’re so excited to have our first graduating class,” she said.
The EDC, which manages the $7 million grant that the county received for the program, worked with business partners including Lockheed Martin and Dimensions Healthcare Systems, the school system, Ashlin Ur- ban Institute, Hillside Work Scholarship Connection, Latin American Youth Center, Prince George’s Community College and The Maryland Center at Bowie State University, according to an EDC press release.
Coleman said the program experience that students have received is a game changer in their lives as healthcare and information technology are top industry sectors the county is strategically targeting to create the workforce of the future. Having a hand up in such high-demand and high-wage careers is the way to keep the county moving forward, especially when it comes to the EDC’s goal of attracting and retaining residents, he said.
“Today is a big day for Prince George’s County and our residents because we’ve got rockstars, 44 of them who are graduating,” Coleman said. “Thank goodness for [President Obama’s support] as well as county executive Baker for going after this kind of grant. It’s transformative and helping our young students to get exposure to STEM training while they’re in school. … They’re going to go out into the world — some are going to be in computer science, some are going to go into the military and some are going to study medicine. They’re just thrilled about the future and so are we.”
Baker said President Obama announced the program grant right after his administration launched the county’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative in 2012, an effort that focuses on uplifting six neighborhoods facing significant economic, health, public safety and educational challenges. For Baker, he said the timing was perfect for both administrations to get more involved in education.
“One of the things we try to do in this administration is really tie our education system with our executive and use all of our resources,” Baker said. “This is one of many steps we are taking to move Prince George’s County forward.”
Thanks to the program and its partners, all 44 students in this year’s graduating class have been accepted to some of the top colleges in the country including the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, George Washington University and Howard University, the EDC press release noted.
For Bladensburg High School senior Gabriel Aborisade, a Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient who will receive a full ride to the University of Maryland College Park, he said participating in CareerConnect allowed him to have internships — one of them being at Bowie State University — and explore all types of medical and IT fields.
“I was able to get a true experience about college. I was able to get experience about different careers I could go into and was able to get advice,” said Aborisade, who plans to pursue his Ph.D. in the medical field. “The biggest thing that I’m going to get out of the program, honestly, is going to be the skills and friends. … I was able to succeed in school and I really appreciate YCC for that.”
For 17-year-old student Tiffany Aguilar, also from Bladensburg High, she was able to get an internship at the Pregnancy Aid Center in College Park where she interacted with clients and participated in hands-on activities like triaging and filling out paperwork.
“This program has helped me broaden my career choices and has also provided a whole bunch of opportunities for me,” she said. “It has helped me figure out what career path I want to choose.”
By bringing together key parties in the public and private sectors to accelerate economic growth in the county as well as Maryland at-large, Coleman said the EDC is all about creating a workforce for existing and emerging jobs.
“Our job at the EDC is to make sure that we have good jobs for them when they graduate from college so they can come back and stay here,” Coleman said. “Buy a home, have a family, pay taxes and help us to continue to improve our schools and our way of life in Prince George’s County.”
Seniors from Bladensburg High School smile after receiving their certificates at Prince George’s County’s first Youth CareerConnect Program graduation on May 11 at Prince George’s Community College’s Largo Student Center in Largo. In total, 44 students from Bladensburg and Fairmont Heights High schools graduated from the program and have all been accepted to college.