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  • Joanne Jacobs

Paid jobs put teens on career paths

Career and technical education (CTE) programs are surging across the country, but most students don't end up in those careers. In Nashville, career academies are trying to get students into paid jobs that provide hands-on experience and networking opportunities, reports Mila Koumpilova on Chalkbeat.


Israel Perez shows off Pearl-Cohn High's recording studio in Nashville. A would-be music producer, he's working at Capital Records. Photo: Mila Koumpilova/Chalkbeat

Pedro Martinez, who runs Chicago Public Schools, hopes to follow that model. It isn’t enough to prepare students for a career without giving them hands-on experience, Martinez told his school board in August. “They actually have to do it,” he said. “You want them to be engineers? You put them in an engineering internship.”


In the last 15 years, as Nashville created career academies and built partnerships with employers and colleges, the district's graduation rate soared, writes Koumpilova. But the effort remains "a work in progress."


Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet realized few graduates were finding jobs in Nashville's music industry. "The school connected relatively few with internships and other meaningful work-based learning experiences," she writes.

With a grant from JPMorgan Chase, (Nashville) launched a more formal, paid work-based learning program last school year, starting with 68 students at four high-poverty schools, including Pearl-Cohn. Thirteen businesses hosted the interns, who also take a class that teaches them how to conduct themselves professionally on the job. This year, about 80 students are participating in the program, with hopes to expand it dramatically in coming years.

Students in Hillwood High's hospitality program can work for $16 an hour at a nearby Holiday Inn, which is "desperate" for workers.


Pearl-Cohn, which serves a predominantly Black and low-income student body, has added a health sciences pathway, partnering with nearby medical schools, writes Koumpilova. "Slightly more than half of the first group of students who completed the health care program landed jobs as medical assistants or continued on studying in the health care field — a promising start."


More students are earning industry-recognized credentials, writes Fordham's Amber M. Northern. Yet many don't get jobs in the industry, concludes a new study.


In focus groups, some students said they took CTE to explore new interests -- and avoid dull classes. "This tracks research that shows high schoolers are bored out of their minds — but consider CTE classes more interesting than other courses," writes Northern. Others are interested in the skill, but not in the career.

She suggests offering "exploratory courses," starting in middle school, "followed by a hierarchy of credentials" for students with different goals.

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