School districts prepare students for high-tech jobs of the future
Williamson County’s schools are among its top assets when it comes to economic development. Not only do they help attract companies looking for a highly educated workforce, they are also a top draw for relocating talent in search of high-quality educational options for their families.
“The reputation of Williamson County Schools speaks for itself. We hear from business leaders who are relocating here that their families want to have access to a high-performing public school system,” says Carol Birdsong, communications director for Williamson County Schools. “Williamson County Schools has all the elements needed for success. We attract the best and brightest teachers; we have innovative school leaders; we have caring support staff; we have involved parents; we have a supportive business community; we have elected officials who advocate for public education; and we have students who come to school ready to learn.”
Both school districts play a pivotal role in workforce development efforts, helping prepare students for emerging jobs, particularly in STEM-related fields. Franklin Special School District, for example, partnered with the Nashville Technology Council and the organization, We Build Tech, to offer summer computer coding camps for fifth through ninth graders. The district also works with local corporate sponsors Tractor Supply Co. and Jackson National Life to teach programming to intermediate and middle school students through Creative Coding Clubs. Williamson County Schools’ College, Technology and Careers programs expose students to high-tech careers through hands-on instruction and problem-based learning.
“We have right around 44 different programs of study for kids to choose from. We begin as early as the 8th grade to give students a behind-the-scenes look at what careers look like in the areas where those students have an interest and an aptitude,” says Dave Allen, executive director of College, Career and Technical Education for Williamson County Schools. “These courses give students very specific content knowledge for that career, but they also give students on-the-job experiences.”
High-Tech and Hands-On
Allen points to the autonomous vehicle programs at Franklin and Independence High Schools and the drone program at Nolensville High School as examples. For the autonomous vehicle program, the school system partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop a series of courses that will teach students the programming languages and operating systems to design a car that will drive itself through a course. Nolensville High worked with Middle Tennessee State University and Franklin-based Snaproll to create a curriculum for the unmanned aerial systems program. Allen says these types of programs are an asset for the county when recruiting high-tech companies.
“We’re trying to align students’ strengths and their interests with possible careers at any early age. Research shows that if you’re doing something that you love and that you’re good at, you’re going to be more successful at it,” he says. “So we spend a lot of time with interest inventories and aptitude inventories because we feel like we can have a positive impact on economic development by getting the right kids with the right strengths into the right fields so that they stay there, they’re energized, they’re excited, and they produce better work. Having a talented and energized workforce is a plus when companies are looking at Williamson County.”
Allen says another example of the district’s role in workforce development is the mechatronics dual enrollment program at Fairview High School. The program will allow students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma, a technical certificate and an Associate of Applied Science Degree from Columbia State Community College. Columbia State also works with Centennial High School’s WIT (Williamson’s Information Technology) Center to offer college-level courses in computer applications, mobile app design and robotics.
“We want to play a role in the completion rates of our students at post-secondary schools to make sure that kids get the credentials needed to be successful,” Allen says. “The more post-secondary credit we can provide them at an earlier age, the more likely they’ll be to complete the degree, so if a student can walk across the stage and have 15 [college credit] hours in his back pocket — which is half of a freshman year course load — the more likely he will be to succeed.
Teaching the Whole Student
Both Williamson County Schools and Franklin Special School District stress that career readiness involves more than academic aptitude. FSSD, for example, focuses on health and wellness as a part of that preparation. The annual Walk to Wellness, which marks its 25th anniversary in 2017, is a 28-mile hike along the Natchez Trace for Moore Elementary’s fourth-graders.
“We started this project years ago as a way to promote walking as the best form of exercise for better health and weight control,” physical education teacher John Parks told The Tennessean. “This is a life-changing event for most students and one that they look forward to throughout their experience at Moore Elementary.”
Fairview High School launched the BE NICE program to create a culture of kindness in the school and throughout the community.
“As the message spread, photos of students, teachers, celebrities and professional athletes holding the BE NICE sign began to appear on social media all over the world,” Birdsong says. “More importantly, teachers and students at Fairview High began to report a change in student behavior, and soon, schools across the district had adopted the message.”