hands-on learning

With powerful backers, new Colorado apprenticeship program seeks to build ‘middle class of tomorrow’

PHOTO: Denver Public Schools
Denver student Quang Nguyen works at an internship this past summer.

A youth apprenticeship program set to launch next fall aims to connect 250 Colorado high school students with paid job training in its first year, providing students with an immediate path to middle-income jobs and helping businesses cultivate the skilled workers they need.

Called CareerWise Colorado, the program is being launched with the help of $5.5 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In addition, JPMorgan Chase is contributing $4 million to Denver Public Schools to expand its current career exploration program. DPS is one of four school districts that has pledged to take part in the new CareerWise Colorado initiative.

Under the apprenticeship program, participating 11th- and 12th-graders will spend up to half of their time working and the other half in class earning a diploma and credit toward a two-year college degree. They will spend an additional year post-graduation getting more work experience and earning more college credits.

“We are in the process of building a real pipeline of talent that goes from the school, the campus directly to the workplace,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said at a kickoff event Wednesday morning at the downtown highrise headquarters of DaVita Healthcare Partners.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez was among the dignitaries at the event. He called the state a nationwide leader in youth apprenticeship, which he joked is “the other college, except without the debt.”

“What you’re doing through these investments is not only building the workforce of tomorrow,” he said. “You’re building the middle class of tomorrow.”

CareerWise Colorado came together after business leaders — led by Denver-based Intertech Plastics founder Noel Ginsburg — education leaders and state government officials, including Hickenlooper, visited Switzerland in 2015 and early 2016 to study that country’s popular apprenticeship program, in which 70 percent of high schoolers participate.

Ginsburg said what he saw there inspired him to push for a similar program in Colorado.

“We really believe this can be transformational — not just for our students, but for our businesses, as well,” said Ginsburg, who is chairman of the CareerWise Colorado board.

Several Colorado employers have committed to working with apprentices, including DaVita, Intertech Plastics, Pinnacol Assurance and Mikron, a Swiss manufacturer with a location in Englewood. In fact, Mikron has already taken on three apprentices this year.

Selena Elekovic, a senior at Cherry Creek High School, is one of them. Addressing the crowd at Wednesday’s event, she said the experience has helped solidify her desire to become an engineer.

“They showed us how concepts I learned about in class come to life,” Elekovic said.

CareerWise Colorado backers hope to see 20,000 Colorado high school students participate in youth apprenticeships by 2027, a goal they admit will require more funding.

Several local organizations also have donated, including the Daniels Fund, the Mile High United Way and the Walton Family Foundation. The state of Colorado has also contributed. (The Walton Family Foundation is a financial supporter of Chalkbeat).

CareerWise Colorado would also like more school districts to get involved. Thus far, Denver, Cherry Creek, Jeffco and Mesa County Valley School District 51 have pledged to take part.

Meanwhile, Denver Public Schools plans to use its $4 million grant to expand its existing CareerConnect program from 6,000 students to 9,000 students over the next three years.

Students can start taking foundational classes in 9th grade in one of several “pathways,” including business, technology, creative arts and healthcare. They can also attend a career exploration event — for example spending half a day at a hospital, hearing from doctors, exploring the inside of an ambulance and even doing a dissection experiment.

In 10th grade, students continue taking classes and have the option of connecting with a mentor who works in the field they’re interested in. In 11th grade, they can do an internship. And starting next fall, 100 DPS students will get a chance to participate in the apprenticeship program.

Thus far, DPS’s CareerConnect program has been funded with help from a $7 million federal grant the district won in 2014. But that money will eventually run out, which is why funding to continue and expand CareerConnect is included as part of a proposed $56.6 million mill levy override the district is asking Denver voters to approve in November.

Dozens of DPS students attended today’s event dressed in matching navy blue polo shirts. Quang Nguyen, a senior at Lincoln High School, had a paid summer internship at the Colorado Department of Education, where he worked with the technology team to test the department’s data collection system for potentially devastating errors.

Nguyen, who is in the process of applying to study engineering at a Colorado university next year, said the most important thing he learned was “how to communicate with people, how to know about deadlines and how to tell people you need help.”

Juan Garcia, a Lincoln High junior, interned with the city’s technology services department, updating and replacing computers at Denver libraries. He encouraged other students who might be considering getting involved in the CareerConnect program to take the leap.

Asked what he wants to do after high school, Garcia didn’t hesitate.

“Solve all the world’s problems,” he said.

summer intern

What do Nobu 57, the MTA and the DOE have in common? They provided internships in the city’s latest push for career education

PHOTO: Monica Disare
New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School.

Hundreds of New York City high school students are wrapping up internships in construction, hospitality, and business, the city announced on Thursday.

The 600 city-funded internships kicked off a new initiative called the Career and Technical Education Industry Scholars Program, which is part of New York City’s push to expand career education. Top city and state education officials are all backing a push for more CTE — but also acknowledge they’ve had trouble starting new programs.

Programs like this, which also included jobs in transportation, media and culinary arts, are one way the city is trying to fill in the gaps.

“We’re preparing students for their future beyond high school, and giving them an opportunity to practice and hone the valuable skills they’ve learned in the classroom,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

City and state officials have been ratcheting up their support for CTE in recent weeks. In an uncharacteristic joint public appearance last month, the top three city and state education policymakers all visited a school in Queens to back career education and talk through obstacles to its expansion.

Recent data have shown that even students who do have access to CTE in school often miss out on opportunities to work in their field before graduation.

Despite New York City’s role as a business and tech hub, fewer than 1,600 city students completed internships in 2014, according to a report prepared for the Partnership for New York City. A 2016 Manhattan Institute report found that less than 2 percent of all New York City CTE students and less than 5 percent of high school seniors completed one.

At their meeting in Queens, top city and state officials noted that the process for winning state approval for a CTE program — a comprehensive review that allows schools to implement a multi-year curriculum — can be frustratingly lengthy, and doesn’t allow schools to keep pace as industries shift.

State officials have also increased the importance of CTE in recent years by allowing students to earn a diploma by substituting a career-focused track for one of the Regents exams typically required to graduate.

They have also suggested they are interested in providing more graduation options for students that require work experience. Still, it remains unclear whether enough schools offer the necessary courses to make this a real option for many students.

college prep

One Jeffco program is taking on a big problem: Many low-income students accepted to college never attend

Jefferson graduates take a personality test to prepare for their first day of classes at Red Rocks Community College. (Photo by Marissa Page/Chalkbeat)

On a recent evening, a dozen 2017 graduates of Edgewater’s Jefferson Junior-Senior High School were back at their alma mater, split into small groups at tables in the school library.

Community volunteers walked through a “pre-college checklist” with tips about paying tuition online, buying books and getting a student number. Most had already done all of those things.

There was even a personality test — designed to help the students get in touch with the traits that could help or hurt their chances of college success.

This mentorship program, in its first year, is designed to address a problem that often flies under the radar in the discussion about increasing college access: nationally, 40 percent of low-income students who have been accepted to college don’t show up to the first day, studies show.  

Many Jefferson students will be the first in their families to attend college, said Joel Newton, founder of the local nonprofit Edgewater Collective, which is running the mentorship program. Their parents might not have had any exposure to the process before, he said, rendering them easily overwhelmed by the sheer number of steps necessary to enroll at school.

“We have a high number of students that leave saying they’re going to college and a low number that actually go,” said Nathan Chamberlain, a counselor at Jefferson.

The program began in the fall and picked up again in June with a week of sessions including college visits, placement test preparation and other resources to help Jefferson’s college-bound seniors.

Edgewater Collective has held monthly mentoring sessions since, inviting community members and school staff to help students with tasks such as getting ID cards and registering for classes.

“The big thing we’ve noticed this summer in just kind of walking alongside students through this process is that a number of the roadblocks that pop up would be hard if we weren’t walking alongside them,” Newton said.

In the program’s first year, Newton said about half of Jefferson’s college-bound seniors participated. He said he hopes to expand the program to include not only more students continuing their academic careers, but also provide career readiness training.

“We did a lot of this on the fly,” said Chamberlain, the school counselor, adding that the organization will start the sessions earlier in the future. “It was easier for kids to fall through the cracks, and we didn’t have a chance to follow up with some.”

Newton said community members and local organizations such as Red Rocks Community College and Goodwill Industries loaned time and resources to the program’s pilot year. That included support to fund scholarships. About 80 percent of the college-bound graduates have scholarships, Newton said.

Additionally, Edgewater Collective teamed up with the nonprofit PCs for People to provide new computers to program participants who attend 80 percent or more of their first three weeks of classes.

“Incentives are great but more than just the incentives, we’re overdoing these first two years because we’re trying to create a culture,” Chamberlain said. “When you talk about a first generation school like ours, college isn’t the buzz … We’ve put incentives in place to have a mob mentality, in a positive way, of ‘everyone’s doing this, so I should do it too.’”