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Afterschool makes a difference for middle school career exposure in CTE

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Afterschool makes a difference for middle school career exposure in CTE

“Imaginations are what will carry us to the future, and (for me) Digital Harbor helped to expand it,” 7th grader Jacob Leggette proclaimed in front of the full room at the Senate Career and Technical (CTE) Education Caucus  and Afterschool Alliance Briefing on June 25.

The briefing, “Making the Most of Middle School Career Exploration in CTE,” put a spotlight on the importance of community partners in career and technical education state planning and implementation.

Panelist Luke Rhine, director of Delaware’s Career and Technical Education and STEM programs, mentioned his state was using the newly reauthorized CTE law known as Perkins V to rethink the state’s programming through the redefined needs assessment process and deeply involving partners in stakeholder engagement. “It’s incredibly important, in my opinion, that we take this up collectively, as partners, and with an intentional model to build skills in youth,” Rhine mentioned.

One of his state partners is Regina Sidney-Brown, briefing moderator, and director of the Delaware Statewide afterschool network. Sidney-Brown said it was natural that organizations like hers partner with the state education department pointing out that in order to reach students across time and place, no one entity could successfully do this work alone.

Sidney-Brown pointed out the middle school was a particularly crucial time for collaborating to help students find their career interest. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” she reminded the audience. Middle school, specifically, she noted, referencing a recent national academies report, is now seen as “the second most active period of brain growth after infancy”: a time when experiences, exposure, and connections to caring adult and the community are especially important.

This resonated with Rhine who pointed out one of the greatest needs in the Delaware state CTE system is student readiness, a trait he defines as a sense of identity and purpose and a student who is aware of what they want to pursue when they enter high school.

Jacob Leggette know what that feels like. Through his participation in the Digital Harbor Foundation afterschool programs, he has already passed the CompTIA IT Fundamentals test and is thinking about his future. Leggette told the panel that his long term goal is to be a technical engineer so he can work with robots to manufacture artificial organs and make them more affordable and available for those in need.

Panelist Andrew Coy, executive director of Leggette’s program, is certain that afterschool programs are a powerful path forward for youth. Digital Harbor’s program begins engaging youth as early as second grade and offers progressive sequences of learning, all of which lead to youth employment opportunities in fields like computer science and digital fabrication. Coy gave examples of participants at Digital Harbor who manufacture 3-D printed designs and make websites for paying clients. The program also engages high school youth in designing curriculum for and leading programs for elementary youth.

Coy implored the audience, including Capitol Hill staff, industry associations, and youth-serving providers, to support decision-makers and constituents in the implementation of CTE by continuing to show the value of afterschool programs as partners. After all, he said “it’s the same youth.”

Daniela Grigioni, executive director of After-School All-Stars DC (ASAS DC) provided another example of these types of programs and partners. Grigioni’s program focuses mainly on middle school youth, an age group which she said often suffers from underinvestment. While strong investments in early childhood and college preparation are extremely important, she emphasized, they leave a space in children’s continuum of learning. Programs like hers aim to match an opportunity of time with an opportunity population by operating in the hours from 3 to 6 p.m., when youth without activities or enrichments can often engage in less constructive activities that carry over with them into the next school day, and with middle schoolers, as they discover their next steps.

After-School All-Stars DC’s free, comprehensive afterschool program for high-poverty schools includes a project-based learning curriculum that connects youth directly with area employers and businesses These business “have an interest in diversifying their workforce and ... they want a workforce that is locally grown,” she said. Those needs create a good foundation for partnerships.

One project, Big City Builders, works with the real estate industry in D.C. to focus on urban development. Youth get to research and design their own community, interacting with a broad array of careers including architects who design the buildings, construction crews and engineers who create and outfit them, lawyers who draw up contracts, bankers and accountants who finance loans and make budgets with taxes and broker fees, real-estate agents, and even the city governments who administrate the permits, legislate for development, and determine the number of services such as schools and hospitals to provide.

The work engages deeply on issues of equity, environmental design, and the trade-offs and considerations of serving diverse community across income levels and land uses. At the end of the project students come up with solutions as they create their own model community, print it on a 3-D printer, and present it in front of a panel of industry professionals.

This is the type of work Rhine points to when he looks at the big picture opportunities of the CTE law. “Our job, more than anything else,” Rhine explained, “is about talent development.” Which Rhine described as making sure students in school and out of school can discover who they want to be, be surrounded by a network of caring adults, and be given the opportunity to “reinvent and reinvest in the community in which they’re from.”

The Perkins V planning process is going on now is the perfect opportunity to begin to realize more of this vision.

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