Washington County Helps Students Get Workforce Ready

Students get tools to be college- and career-ready.

By
Kim Madlom
On Friday, July 31, 2020 - 12:47
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Today’s careers require more skills than ever — hard and soft skills ranging from science and technology to communication and problem-solving. Washington County’s educational institutions give students an edge by teaching those skills at every grade level.

In the public schools, Career and Technical Education programs prepare students to be college and career-ready by engaging them in core academic skill development, technical training and workplace skills.

“We’re engaging students in preparation for higher education and the workforce,” says Washington County Division Superintendent Brian Ratliff. “And we are accomplishing this in an encouraging, hands-on environment.”

In the past, CTE programs primarily drew students interested in entering the workforce soon after high school. However, Ratliff says in Washington  County, college-aspiring students are participating in much higher numbers each school year.

CTE students have access to internships in pre-engineering, networking IT, drafting and many more fields. Some graduates go directly into the workforce, while others enter college.

“Some of our students are getting job offers right on the spot, as soon as they complete their internships,” Ratliff says.

He says representatives from business and industry who have offered jobs to Washington County Public School graduates ready for the workforce have expressed confidence in the level of education and training students have achieved.

“Moreover, students are engaging in experiences that help them define career planning and choose courses of future study. We believe these experiences and opportunities help prepare our students for today’s careers and even those that have not yet been created,” Ratliff says.

In addition, all Washington County schools are helping students prepare for the workforce, leadership contributions and life readiness with a project-based learning (PBL) approach and expectation.

“In PBL, we strive to create authentic experiences where students can apply knowledge in a more meaningful manner,” Ratliff says. “Students are given goals and associated tasks in many cases to help their community and, as leaders of learning, we can help hem obtain and use the knowledge, skills and collaboration to meet the desired outcomes.”

Higher Education Center Creates Opportunities

The Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center eliminates barriers to higher education for students in the region by providing access to degree programs close to home.

“The center is in the opportunity business,” says David Matlock, executive director. “We provide  pathways for students from across southwest Virginia with opportunities to achieve higher education credentials without leaving the region. ‘Stay here and go far’ is what I tell our students.”

The center partners with multiple public and private institutions of higher education to offer programs, certificates, and professional development and degrees. Partners include Bluefield College, East Tennessee State University, Emory & Henry College, King University, Old Dominion University, Radford University, University of Virginia, The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech.

In 2019, the center served over 70,000 residents with programs, including a K-5 STEM Academy, GED preparation, Linwood Holton Governor’s School, College for Older Adults, professional development, certificates, degrees, multiple conferences and events.

Leading by Example

Bristol Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Perrigan says the center made pursuing his educational goals possible.

Through the center, Perrigan earned his master’s in educational leadership from Radford University and his Ed.D. in educational leadership and policy studies from Virginia Tech.

“Without the graduate degree programs provided at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, I would not have had the opportunities to provide leadership to and for students in southwest Virginia,” Dr. Perrigan says. “My first commitment has always been to my family. Taking classes and earning my master’s and doctoral degrees at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center enabled me to chase my professional dreams while maintaining the proper balance between home and work.”

If you'd like to learn more about the Washington County area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Washington County