Local schools and districts in the Best Southwest Partnership region are educating students for the high-tech jobs of the future.
When Dr. Michael McFarland asked a fourth-grader about his career aspirations after school one day, the 9-year-old didn’t hesitate.
“Architectural engineer,” the smiling student told McFarland, superintendent of Lancaster Independent School District.
Such a specific response didn’t shock McFarland in light of the district’s STEM initiative, one of many innovative approaches that schools throughout the Best Southwest Partnership region are taking to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s high-tech jobs.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math – and LISD’s program aims to build a strong foundation in each area to help students become college-and-career ready when they graduate from high school. That fourth-grader’s interest was piqued when, as part of STEM, an architectural firm visited and gave elementary school students opportunities to study design and even design a house.
“Our STEM initiative has allowed us to create fun, engaging, real-life experiences and introduce students to professionals in those fields,” McFarland says. “Students are more aware of the opportunities available to them, and they’re more likely to pursue them.”
Helping Students Soar
Lancaster is in good company when it comes to equipping students for success. Other examples of educational initiatives by area schools include Duncanville ISD’s problem-based learning model, DeSoto ISD’s college-and-career academies and Cedar Hill ISD’s dual-enrollment program.
At Cedar Hill, students may enroll in classes that fulfill their high school requirements while earning college credit and smoothing the transition into the workforce.
“Dual-enrollment classes are one of the most powerful strategies for changing the trajectory of our students’ lives,” says Dr. Orlando Riddick, superintendent of Cedar Hill ISD.
Cedar Hill is home to one of the nation’s most successful Early College High School campuses. Remarkably, 85 percent of Cedar Hill Collegiate graduates leave high school with 60 hours of college credit and earn an associate degree from Cedar Valley Community College as well as their Cedar Hill diploma. The other 15 percent typically complete 50-plus college-credit hours and are just one or two classes short of an associate degree.
In a similar vein, the DeSoto ISD offers College and Career Academies at DeSoto High School. In five disciplines – arts and performance, business and technology, classical, health and science, and professional – students receive high school and college credits as they explore interests leading to careers as veterinarians, radio broadcasters, fashion designers, accountants, pilots, chefs, business professionals, physicians and more.
The benefits of this college-ready approach are abundant, says Dr. David Harris, superintendent of DeSoto ISD.
“It gets students ahead in college, and it helps their parents by offsetting college expenses,” he says. “If a student can get a certification in, say, automotive or cosmetology, they can go into the field and work and pay their own way through college.”
Top-tier students receive scholarships through the Best Southwest Scholars program, which recognizes students selected by mayors of the 12 communities in the Best Southwest Partnership region. One such student is Cortevios Allen, a 2013 DeSoto High School graduate and current student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“The Southwest Scholars program showed me that my community valued my education, and me, enough to lend a helping hand,” Allen says. “It allowed me to further my education beyond my community in high hopes that one day I, too, will give back as it was given to me.”
In addition to innovative programs at traditional public schools, charter schools are getting in on the wave of hands-on, workplace-savvy learning. They include Village Tech in Cedar Hill, an open-enrollment charter school serving grades PK4-9. Like most other charter schools, Village is a tuition-free, public school open to anyone within its defined boundary. It’s growing, too, with plans to add 10th grade in the fall of 2015.
Another example is Life School, a K-12 charter school that operates six campus locations in Lancaster, Red Oak, Oak Cliff, Cedar Hill and Mountain Creek.
In these and many other ways, schools in the Best Southwest Partnership region are shaping tomorrow’s leaders. As Allen puts it: “Students need to be out there on the front lines learning how to do a job instead of in classrooms just hearing someone talk about it.”
Find more programs for students in the Best Southwest Dallas Partnership region.