Career-prep programs a hit with local students

May. 08, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

Interest in science-focused summer camps for younger students and high school-level career academies is growing, and last year, nearly every single Lee County senior who had taken career and technical education classes graduated.

Those updates were some of the good news to come out of this week’s quarterly meeting of the Lee County Job Ready Partnership, a local group of public school employees and people in the private business sector. They met at Lee County High School to discuss ways to prepare students for an increasingly globalized, tech-focused work force.

Patrick Kelly, Central Carolina Community College’s liaison for career and technical education, leads the group along with Aaron Fleming, the director of career and technical education in Lee County Schools.

Fleming said at Tuesday’s meeting that the group recently has put heavy focus on the high school academies, which began this year with a hospitality and tourism program at Southern Lee High School. Programs on finance and engineering are coming next year to Lee County High School, and academy programs on health sciences and computers/IT are in the works for further in the future.

Cindy Ammons, a local real estate agent involved in the incoming finance academy, said she’s excited to see students getting the chance to work with programs as complex as Quickbooks and learn the beginnings of a vital profession while still in high school.

“I think it’s going to be a great program, too, for getting kids to think about what they want to do when they get out of school,” Ammons said. “I know when I got out of high school, I didn’t think about what I wanted to do for a long time.”

For the incoming engineering academy, Martin Kegel from the local Caterpillar factory said he has high hopes it will help students find good work in a high-demand field. He also said he has been pleased with the welding apprenticeship program — a partnership among his employer, CCCC and Lee County Schools.

“I’m excited to see it happening,” Kegel, a plant manager, said. “Looking at the caliber of the students in the welding program, that has improved every year. ... It’s really a whole other level of student now.”

Another program in the works that was touted Tuesday is Central Carolina Works, an effort by CCCC to reach out to high school students in Lee, Chatham and Harnett counties and make them more aware they can take dual-enrollment classes for free. The program also will provide counselors to help students choose the best course load for their post-graduation plans, facilitate meetings between teachers and local business leaders, write business-focused newsletters, take students around to meet local business leaders, and more.

“We’re really excited because we know they’re things these counties need, these students need,” said Laura Howard, who will be the program advisor at Southern Lee next year.

Acknowledging that passions for certain fields should be encouraged before high school as well, the group also discussed summer camps for students who will be entering grades 6-10. The camps will focus on science, math or robotics and cost $25 each.

Tina Poltrock, the school district’s director of secondary education, said that like the career academies, interest in these camps is growing. There was just one camp three years ago. Last year they expanded to three camps and still had no empty spots, so this year, they’ve expanded again to six camps.

“We think this is going to help our students get comfortable with STEM and lead into jobs in the future,” Poltrock said.

Whether it’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or something more blue-collar, Fleming said that in Lee County, students who take career-oriented classes are almost guaranteed to graduate. Last year only five school districts had higher graduation rates than Lee County’s 99.1 percent graduation rate for seniors who had taken at least four credits worth of career or technical education classes. In the district as a whole, the graduation rate was 86.4 percent.