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Mesa County, CO, Schools Help Students Find Success Through Collaboration

By Livability on November 23, 2021

Central High School graduation, Grand Junction, CO
Courtesy of Mesa County Valley School District 51

At Mesa County Valley School District 51 in Grand Junction, Colorado, uniting with local organizations to prepare its 21,000 students for the workforce isn’t an afterthought — it’s a priority. 

“The workforce is struggling. Students are struggling to get motivated to find careers,” says Cheri Taylor, director of Career and College Readiness. “The earlier we can help them think about what they want to do with their life as a career, the better off they’re going to be, and the better off our businesses are going to be.” 

Thanks to these programs, more than half of D51 students graduate with college credit: 

P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools): In the first districtwide pathway of its kind in the state, D51 matches business needs with student career goals, offering free associate degrees in tandem with high school diplomas. The students are often hired immediately. 

Concurrent enrollment: Students earn college credits free of charge by attending classes at Colorado Mesa University or Western Colorado Community College. 

Outdoor Wilderness Lab (OWL): Middle-schoolers take hands-on science lessons in a beautiful camplike setting that also builds teamwork and emotional growth. 

Advanced Placement (AP): These programs allow students to dig deeper into areas of interest, such as chemistry, art or psychology. Two D51 high schools recently earned the AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award for high enrollment. 

Career Center: This vocational program transports high school students to the center for classes in one of seven fields. Last year, 288 students also earned industry certifications in banking, the film industry and other areas. 

Bilingual education: With one bilingual elementary school and another for middle school, students can earn a Biliteracy Certificate; many become valuable interpreters in the community. 

CareerWise apprenticeships: One of a handful of Colorado school districts to participate, D51 partners with businesses that pay students while they learn on the job. The district has even hired four students as aides in its pre- and elementary schools, with contracts waiting for them upon graduation. 

“It gives the kids motivation and incentives to finish their degree,” Taylor says. “And it helps us because it’s growing our own teachers.” 

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