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Why students in my high schools can test drive careers

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Patrice Pujol, Superintendent of Ascension Public Schools in Louisiana.

In my school district in southern Louisiana, we want each student to graduate with the academic, technical and social skills needed to succeed in life beyond high school.

So when we learned that in the next five years approximately 80,000 skilled employees will be needed for industrial jobs along the Mississippi corridor, where the Ascension Public Schools district is located, we took strategic action. We started planning how to best open these doors to well-paying jobs for our graduates.

The mission of our school system is simple. We want to provide each student the high-quality education he or she will need to succeed in an ever-changing world. Personally, I’ve had a longstanding commitment to helping kids consider the “What happens next?” question, and I felt this was an excellent opportunity to help our students begin thinking about their lives and careers after high school.

However, we also realized that we were unable to offer all the technical training our students would need to be prepared and qualified for these high-tech jobs. So we began to reach outside our walls and look at different education delivery systems to ensure students were successful after graduation. One of the most viable options we found was Course Choice, also known as Course Access.

In our district, Course Access truly offers each student a choice in determining his or her own pathway. Students are able to select Louisiana Student Weldingand complete free skill training and certification opportunities while still attending high school. We partnered with the local chapter of Associated Builders and Construction (ABC Pelican), a national construction industry trade association, to make this possible.

Many of our students had not even considered these types of industrial jobs, mostly because they didn’t know these options existed. Through Course Access, we’ve been able to highlight these opportunities and offer our students the chance to try out new careers and discover if these options are viable for their future.

The program with ABC Pelican has been very successful, growing from 34 to 250 participants in the last few years. Through Course Access, young men and women in our school district are finding a variety of construction-based jobs that interest them, including welding, pipe fitting, millwrighting and electrical work.

This complements our overall program for Industry Based Certifications (IBCs). In the 2013-14 school year, 33 percent of all seniors in Ascension Public Schools that earned a regular high school diploma or GED also earned a career or technical IBCs. Last year, 639 IBCs were earned by graduating seniors, up from 595 in 2014.

Providing Course Access has proven to be an excellent experience for everyone involved. Parents are pleased that their children have greater opportunities, school accountability scores are on the rise and the local industry is receiving a trained workforce. Most importantly, students are able to learn about career opportunities they may not have been exposed to while attending a traditional school, with hands-on training to help them transition to the workforce successfully.

Course Access has helped Ascension Parish stay true to its mission.

Dr. Patrice Pujol became the first female to serve as Superintendent of the Ascension Parish Public School System on July 1, 2010. Pujol, a native of Ascension Parish, has worked for Ascension Parish School System for more than 40 years as an English teacher, assistant principal, principal, director and assistant superintendent. She recently was named 2015 Louisiana Superintendent of the Year and was one of four finalists for National Superintendent of the Year.

Dr. Pujol Screenshot