New internships, career pathways program help local students
School districts, CMC combine to help boost college enrollment
By Mike McKibbin
High school students unsure about their future could get a clearer picture thanks to a new workplace learning program in three area school districts.
Recently, the Buena Vista, Lake County and Salida school districts received a two-year, $1.4 million grant from the Colorado Department of Education. The grant money comes from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.
The grant money will help start what’s called a Rural CoAction program of work-based learning (such as internships) and student career pathways.
A pathway to career and technical education through workplace learning
Collaborative action, or CoAction, allows districts and regional boards of cooperative services to work together to increase student opportunities.
The program aims to expand student access to career and technical education and workplace learning. That could result in higher college enrollment rates in the three districts.
In 2019, Lake County had a 45% college enrollment rate, Buena Vista 56% and Salida 57%. The state rate was 54.7%, according to the grant application.
All three superintendents – Dr. Bethany Massey from Lake County, Lisa Yates from Buena Vista and David Blackburn from Salida – have previously worked together with their staff to increase these percentages. They’ve also worked with Ben Cairns, vice president and campus dean at Colorado Mountain College Leadville and Salida to help secure these grant funds.
In addition, former state Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida helped the districts obtain the grant as an advocate of rural schools.
“We’re focusing on internships and career pathways for students so they aren’t just taking random classes” at CMC, Cairns said.
Most of the grant money will help pay staff and administrators working in the program. The funds will also go to concurrent enrollment, summer programs for students and teachers, counselors, administration, other educators and associated costs.
‘Coming together for students’
A crucial part of the program is to develop a robust internship program with area businesses.
“It’s hard to teach high school students how to shake hands and network with potential employers,” he said. “So, we want to hold special events where they can meet business owners in their 30s or 50s for a more mature experience. And the businesses can help meet their workforce needs” by offering paid and unpaid internships.
The local school districts have committed to maintaining the program with other local and federal funds after the grant ends.
Historically, underserved subgroups and those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic (low-income families, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness and foster care youth) will be among those to benefit from the new program.
“A lot of kids became disengaged during the pandemic when everything shut down,” Cairns said. “So, we need to make sure we reconnect with them in areas they are interested in. This is about people coming together for students.”
High school students and businesses can learn more about the program from a school counselor or one of three work-based learning coordinators in each community. In Buena Vista, contact Jessica Bright, in Lake County/Leadville, contact Katherine Kerrigan and in Salida, contact Fred Maxwell.