Rethinking High School: President Obama Announces New Youth CareerConnect Grants

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

“How do we start making high school … more interesting, more exciting, more relevant to young people?”

That’s the idea behind the Youth CareerConnect grant program, which President Obama discussed this morning during his visit to Bladensburg High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland. In his remarks, the President announced that Bladensburg High was part of a three-school team in Prince George’s County that won a $7 million Youth CareerConnect grant.

The grant will give students at Bladensburg High access to individualized college and career counseling, as well as paid work experiences with employer partners such as Lockheed Martin. What’s more, students concentrating in health professions will be able to earn industry-recognized certifications in nursing and pharmacy, and biomedical students will be able to earn college credit from the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

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President Barack Obama meets with students working in a biomedical sciences classroom at Bladensburg High School in Bladensburg, Maryland, April 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

All told, the grant will help prepare 2,500 students at Bladensburg High and other Prince George’s County schools to succeed academically and graduate career-ready in the high-demand fields of information technology and health care.

Youth CareerConnect is a national competition, backed by the Departments of Education and Labor, to start redesigning America’s high schools for the 21st century economy. The program is offering $107 million in new grants — ranging from $2.2 million to $7 million — to local partnerships of local education agencies, workforce investment boards, institutions of higher education, and employer partners.

We challenged America’s high schools to … say what can you do to make sure your students learn the skills that businesses are looking for in high-demand fields. And we asked high schools to develop partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on real-life applications for the fields of the future — fields like science and technology and engineering and math.

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President Barack Obama shakes hands with the students on stage following remarks and announcing the winners of the Youth CareerConnect Competition, at Bladensburg High School in Bladensburg, Maryland, April 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

As President Obama explained, these grants will help ensure that more of America’s youth receive a world-class education, which will prepare them “with the skills they need for college, for a career, and for a lifetime of citizenship.”

“From preschool for every 4-year-old in America, to higher education for everybody who wants to go, every young person deserves a fair shot,” said the President. “And I’m going to keep on doing everything I can to make sure you get that shot and to keep America a place where you can make it if you try.”

To learn more about the Youth CareerConnect program, click here.

David Hudson is associate director of content for the White House’s Office of Digital Strategy

The Road to Opportunity: Education and the State of the Union

Obama at SOTUOn Tuesday, during President Obama’s fifth State of the Union address, he reinforced the message that education plays an important role in our country. The President began his speech by noting the critical part that educators play: “Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.”

President Obama laid out his top priorities, rooted in three key principles: opportunity, action, and optimism. Among the education topics discussed, the President recommitted to making high-quality preschool available to every 4-year-old, connecting 99 percent of students to high-speed broadband over the next four years, redesigning high schools to offer more real-world education and hands-on training, and increasing college opportunity and success.

Educators and students also were well represented in the First Lady’s viewing box. Read more about them here. Below are the education excerpts from the speech:

Of course, it’s not enough to train today’s workforce.  We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.

Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age nine.  But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications.  And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall.

Five years ago, we set out to change the odds for all our kids.  We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before.  Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance.  Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math.  Some of this change is hard.  It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test.  But it’s worth it – and it’s working.

The problem is we’re still not reaching enough kids, and we’re not reaching them in time.  That has to change.

Early Learning

Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education.  Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old.  As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight. But in the meantime, thirty states have raised pre-k funding on their own.  They know we can’t wait.  So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children.  And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.

ConnectED

Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years.  Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and twenty million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit.

High School Redesign and Student Loans

We’re working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career.  We’re shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information, and colleges more incentives to offer better value, so that no middle-class kid is priced out of a college education.  We’re offering millions the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to ten percent of their income, and I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt.  And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.

The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us. But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete – and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise – unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American.

State of the Union Resources

Learn more about the Obama administration’s major priorities in education:

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Students Fly High at Aviation High School

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Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (left), and Secretary Arne Duncan with Aviation High School students.

As a former middle school math teacher, at the end of every academic year, I worried about what would happen to my students when they entered high school. I often wished they had different options, including more career and technical education (CTE) schools that would prepare them for the demands of a high-tech economy.

Last week, I participated in a roundtable discussion at Aviation High School in Long Island City, N.Y., where Secretary Arne Duncan spoke with students about their experiences. This school is an example of a CTE school I would have loved to see my students attend.

With a strong focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, Aviation High School prepares students for careers in aviation maintenance and the aerospace industry. In addition to traditional classrooms, the school has 17 real aircraft where students practice repairing planes.

Secretary Duncan highlighted this school as a compelling example of what the Obama administration is trying to replicate through the High School Redesign initiative proposal. This new, competitive grant program would encourage school districts to rethink the traditional high school model and focus on providing rigorous real-world experiences to students that will put them on a path for success in both college and careers.

Through grants to local educational agencies in partnership with colleges, universities, and other organizations—such as nonprofits and community-based groups—the High School Redesign initiative will challenge schools to personalize learning. Redesigned high schools will customize content and instructional practices so that students not only master challenging academic concepts and skills, but also pursue their individual interests.

Further, these schools will align teaching and learning so that all students graduate with college-level coursework or college credit and career-related experiences and skills.

Today’s high-tech, knowledge economy requires that our schools connect learning to what students will be required to do in college and careers.

Located close to two New York airports, Aviation High School has strong partnerships with local businesses, such as JetBlue, that provide internships and mentoring for students.  As one student said, “What we learn here, we apply it in real world situations.”

During the roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan, Aviation High School students discussed how hands-on experiences through internships and other job-related experiences help them to perform well in traditional academic subjects like physics and math.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew further emphasized this point, “We know students in this program outperform on academics because they are engaged in the learning process.”

Many students talked about the pride and accomplishment they felt as a result of their work at the school.  One said, “When you actually work on a plane and watch it take off, that’s a good feeling.”

Students also emphasized how teachers and mentors challenged them and prepared them with skills they planned to use after graduation as they pursue college or aviation careers.

When asked how high schools in the nation could provide similar experiences for other students, one student replied, “You have to start that fire. Get that spark. Make them determined to be successful.” Aviation High School is a powerful model that is clearly sparking so many of its students to succeed.

For more information about the High School Redesign initiative, please see here.

Nicora Placa is a full-time Ph.D student at NYU researching teaching and learning mathematics, and a 2008 Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

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