Student careers become the priority in RGV

Valley schools are adopting curriculum to better prepare their students for the real world. Ford industries is teaming with up with 12 districts in the Rio Grande Valley to implement a business model that focuses on students’ career interests in relation to their everyday studies.

Mission CISD Superintendent Ricardo Lopez said he expects his district to lead the way for the rest of the Valley and is ready to hit the ground running.

Education-Words“As times evolve, we will evolve with them,” Lopez said. “No longer will you have a disconnect where the business community says ‘We’re not preparing our kids for the real world.’ We’re bridging that gap.”

RGV LEAD, a nonprofit organization that works to transition students from high school to college, is facilitating the partnership between Ford Next Generation Learning and the districts. Ford NGL is working to make high school students both college and career ready.

The Linking Economic & Academic Development organization released a regional labor market report that highlighted the targeted occupations, their paying entry level and the opportunity for advancement in those occupations. Ford NGL responded to the report by offering to help introduce the academy formula to students in the region.

“This model really pushes at getting the student to identify with what they’re interested in,” RGV LEAD Director Norma Salaiz said. “It encourages educators to make it relevant to student interest and how it’s going to apply to their future success in the workplace.”

Since September, the partners have been conducting once-a-month training and hope to finalize the curriculum in the summer. Mission CISD and La Joya ISD are among the 12 districts.

LEAD also teamed up with the economic development corporations in the region to identify more specific targeted occupations. According to Salaiz, about 80 percent of students who graduate in the Rio Grande Valley remain in the Valley and are not informed about the job market and training opportunities for any career of their interest.

“We’re able to put together some educational information brochures for students and parents so the educators from those communities can use and say ‘In the Mission area, or La Joya, these are the type of occupations that we currently have. This is what they’re paying. This is the kind of post-secondary training that you need to be able to get these types of jobs,’” Salaiz said.

Ford NGL has implemented this model throughout the nation, including Nashville, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky, and the Valley has the first Texas schools participating.

Students will learn in the classroom and have the opportunity to partake in internships, externships, job shadowing and practicum in the field of study they choose.

Part of what makes the program successful, according to the RGV LEAD director, is the fact that the curriculum model largely focuses on student interest – a concept that can often be lost in a classroom.

“It’s so easy to get caught up in focusing the curriculum and preparing students to pass end-of-course exams,” said Salaiz, a former teacher, administrator and superintendent. “It’s so easy to make that the focus and spending very little time stopping to ask a student, ‘What is it that you want to do in life?’”

La Joya ISD Superintendent Alda Benavides said the Ford NGL program aligned with the district’s goals. The district sent a group of representatives to check out the program already in place in a Nashville school last year.

“We really want to make sure that we transform the lives of our secondary kids, our high school students–that they have a good experience and they’re ready to go out into the world with a career or a field of study that they really enjoy, and they want to pursue,” Benavides told school board members in a recent meeting.

Benavides also presented a list of proposed academies at each of the district’s high school campuses:

  • La Joya High School: Academy of Business and Industry, specializing in hospitality, tourism and restaurant management; Academy of Arts & Humanities, specializing in performance dance
  • Palmview High School: Academy of Public Service, specializing in education; Academy of Business and Industry, specializing in business marketing and finance and collision repair and refinishing
  • Juarez-Lincoln High School: Academy of Public Service, specializing in law, public safety, corrections and security; Academy of Business and Industry, specializing in hospitality, tourism and restaurant management
  • Abraham Lincoln Building: Academy of Public Service, specializing in health science

The districts in phase 1 will start as soon as the next school year begins, but a few districts will roll out the initiative in a five-year period. Phase 2 will most likely begin in the 2016-2017 school year.

Although the program involves more time, effort and planning, Salaiz said she commends the schools for making the commitment to bettering student education. But the ultimate goal is to have the model impact all Valley schools.

“To say ‘I’m willing to…rethink what needs to be done and have to work harder to get it done,’ it just means that they have a lot of courage,” Salaiz said. “I’m happy that they’re willing to do this for students.”

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