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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

From ‘early college’ to careers

A school in rural Kentucky 

uses job-market data to help students plan their futures, reports Catherine Gewertz in Education Week.

Students at iLEAD Academy understand the regional job market, she writes. “They can tell you how much they’ll make as an entry-level robotics technician and whether the pay differential between an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree in that field justifies a four-year-college investment.”

Superintendents of five districts near the Indiana border opened iLEAD as an “early college” academy: Students can earn an associate degree and vocational certifications while completing a high school diploma.

Students aren’t admitted to iLEAD based on test scores or grades. What matters is their motivation and willingness to work well independently, since iLEAD is a blended-learning environment, with a lot of self-paced, online coursework. By focusing only on high-wage, high-demand fields, iLEAD aims to do two things at once: feed the regional jobs pipeline and power students out of poverty.

Students get one-on-one counseling twice a year to refine their career plans.

Storm Mitchell, 17, is studying robotics and has her sights on a job with a company that dispatches technicians all over the world to solve manufacturing-line problems. “I love to see how I can get things to work when I code them right,” she said with a grin. The daughter of a mechanic and a cleaning lady, Storm knows robotics expertise is in demand, and she’s happy that she can anticipate earning $50,000 or more when she enters the field.

Students study full-time at Jefferson Community and Technical College as juniors and seniors. A school staffer makes sure credits will transfer to a four-year college, if students follow that route, and sets up “work-based learning opportunities.”

“College for all” doesn’t do much for upward mobility. The children of people whose aren’t well-educated and don’t have middle-class jobs need to know what’s out there and what they’d need to do to qualify.

Students need early “exposure to the work of work, including some significant opportunities for work-based learning, to be able to make an informed choice about what their next step is,” says Robert Schwartz, co-author of the 2011 Pathways to Prosperity report, in an Ed Week interview.

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