The students who gathered in the Career and Technical Education building on the Cherry Creek High School campus on Jan. 29 were trailblazers in their own right.
They came from all corners of the district on a Monday night, eager to report their progress in an innovative program, one that offers a hands-on, applicable brand of professional training. These high school students are on the forefront of a novel partnership, one that could very well redefine the approach to career and technical training in Colorado.
Specifically, they were among the 16 CCSD students enrolled in professional apprenticeships through CareerWise Colorado, a youth program launched in the fall that sends high school students to work real jobs at real companies. What's more, students enrolled in the CareerWise program have the opportunity to earn industry certifications and build college credit before receiving their high-school diplomas.
Cherry Creek Schools was one of a select number of Colorado school districts to sign up for the CareerWise program when it officially launched in 2016. The students who gathered at the CTE building on Jan. 29 were among the first in the district to take part in the new program, and CCSD Internship and Apprenticeship Specialist Mike Wadleigh wanted to give them their proper credit.
"We want to thank you. We want to celebrate you," Wadleigh told the assembled high-school students. "You are the first crack at this thing … We really do appreciate all that you're doing; you're making big differences for the district."
More importantly, the students are spending their final months in high school building a viable path toward future careers. Abel Bereket, a 17-year-old senior from Overland High School, has been working as a computer technician at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. He's had the chance to build up vital hands-on work experience, even as he's earning money and credits toward college.
"I feel like I'm more prepared for after college. It's given me a more in-depth understanding of the IT field, and that's what I want to go into," Bereket said. "I would recommend this for other high school students."
Brenne Etzel, a senior from Cherokee Trail High School, has taken great strides toward her future career goals during her internship as a mechanical technician at Mikron, an automation, machining and engineering company that has a Colorado base within sight of the future CCSD Career and Innovation Academy campus in Arapahoe County. Since starting her work last summer, Etzel has had the chance to refine a set of marketable skills, and the experience has already helped her solidify her future college plans.
"I've already learned so much," Etzel said. "I've learned how to weld, I'm fork-lift certified … I've learned so much that can't be taught in a classroom."
Etzel is planning to build off of that foundation when she heads to college next year. She's building a professional network of mentors and peers at Mikron, even as she's planning to take her learning to the next level at an in-state college. What's more, thanks to the apprenticeship program, she'll face a much more manageable set of costs to train for a rewarding career.
"I'd tell everyone to take part in this program," Etzel said. "It's a lot more cost-effective way to prepare for a career."
Kelli Buffo, CTE specialist for the district, said that applications are now open for CCSD students interested in the CareerWise program. She pointed to the potential benefits for students looking to get an early start on their careers, and said the push by the district is part of a new iteration of excellence. The district's Career and Innovation Academy, slated to open in the fall of 2019, is set to inspire students to think about career and college opportunities, provide career exploration and offer opportunities for students to earn industry certifications prior to high school graduation.
In the meantime, Buffo said the CareerWise program offers an ideal route for students looking to get an early start in becoming career- and college-ready.
"It's a great way for students to get their hands dirty and to explore these career paths," Buffo said. "The companies that our students are working with are going to pay for credits and industry certifications; they can go to college without the debt."
For more information about CareerWise and the Cherry Creek School District's CTE programs, please visit the program homepage at http://www.cherrycreekschools.org/CTE/Pages/default.aspx