Tennessee Invests $30M To Prepare Students For Work

Photo Credit: Kevin Tong / CC

Published May 25, 2021

By Jon Styf [The Center Square contributor] –

The Tennessee Department of Education is spending $30 million in COVID-19 relief to help 21 school districts create new paths to employment for students through its Innovative High School Models program.

Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

The program features community partnerships in aviation, health care, dual enrollment opportunities, STEM-focused curriculum, automotive learning, manufacturing and virtual and workplace-based learning programs.

The grant process began with the state accepting 61 applications for the program in March. TDOE Chief of Programs Jean Luna said there was so much interest in the program she asked to expand it from the more than $14 million originally set aside.

“The traditional model doesn’t fit for every student, so the idea of the innovative high school is to meet lots of different needs,” Luna said, adding that the ideas came from feedback from employers, schools and students. “It’s to give some of those kids jumpstarts into postsecondary. In some of these models, they’ll leave with their associates degree, and then they can go get their bachelor’s or whatever they like. Some will leave with industry credentials and really get started in the field of welding or automotive or HVAC.”

The 21 schools who earned the grants received between $750,000 to $2 million, money that will become available quickly to schools as they plan to implement programming as soon as the start of school this fall.

The program was paid for with federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) funding.

Luna, a former high school principal, believes the innovative programs will help create an awareness for students earlier about potential careers, but it won’t put them on a track where they have to commit to a long-term career early in high school. It will, however, help students make more informed decisions when they graduate, she said.

“A lot of these kids, if we don’t catch them early, when they leave high school they don’t know what they want to do,” Luna said. “Some of these models create excitement so that those ninth- or 10th-graders so they can jump right into this doing work-based learning and apprenticeships and doing hands-on things already my junior and senior year and also get my high school diploma.”

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The 21 programs will have a statewide kickoff call in early June about the state support for the programs, including having Tennessee Pathways consultants and employees of the Tennessee Board of Regents in each of the state’s nine regions working directly with the schools, along with statewide innovative high school specialists. With the grants being one-time funding, the program also will work to create sustainability through industry partnerships.

“We’re going to have monthly check-ins,” Luna said. “We’re going to be doing visits. And not necessarily just for the monitoring and the accountability and gotcha.”

Luna said a lot of focus is placed in high schools on ACT prep and Advanced Placement courses, but the Innovative High School programs can help get more students excited about the opportunities they are getting after high school.

“To me, this is about making sure that all kids have a voice and all kids can be excited about school,” Luna said. “Some of these programs have a [career and technical education] focus, and that’s what gets some kids to school.”

Luna said it was an involved vetting process to choose the 21 recipient schools and there were plenty of worthy applicants that didn’t receive the grants. The committee factored in everything from industry partnerships and industry needs to location of the schools and the variety and innovation of the idea presented.

“It is exciting to know that school districts now have the opportunity to meet students’ needs through innovative and nontraditional means, said Brandon Hudson, senior director of Workforce and Economic Development for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “No longer will time and space be a barrier for students in reaching all their postsecondary and career-ready goals. Through increased partnerships and innovative modes of learning, these districts can now put all students, especially those often underserved in the traditional approach to education, on a pathway to success.”

The 21 Tennessee school districts receiving grants, including the amount of each grant:

• Alcoa City Schools, $758,135: For the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Knoxville and the Alcoa Tornadoes – Funneling Students into Successful Health Care careers to allow students to be part of a nursing pipeline to the area’s health care industry.

• Bradley County Schools, $1,510,445: For the PIE Innovation Center to collaborate with business, industry and nonprofit organizations to provide experiential learning in STEM, embedded work-based learning experiences and the promotion of design thinking.

• Bristol Tennessee City Schools, $2 million: For the new Tennessee High School Viking Career Center to provide personalized educational and work-based learning options for students who choose an alternative pathway.

• Carter County Schools, $1,221,310: For the district will partner with Northeast State Community College and TCAT Elizabethton on career readiness.

• Cheatham County Schools, $828,282: For Cheatham County Schools, in partnership with the TCAT Nashville, Cheatham County Economic and Community Development Board and Cheatham County industries A.O. Smith and Nashville Fabrication to create a welding and automotive pipeline program.

• Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, $1,546,847: To create a partnership with industry to reimagine the high school model with easier transitions from secondary to post-secondary to careers.

• Collierville Schools, $2 million: For Collierville High School to collaborate with Helena Chemical, Rantizo Drones and FedEx to provide a pathway to career opportunity in the agricultural and transportation/logistics industries.

• Cumberland County Schools, $974,100: For Cumberland County Schools to partner with Azure Flight Support to assist with the development of a training curriculum and provide expertise to train simulator instructors in flight.

• Gibson County Special School District, $1,489,000: For it Pathways to Success Project, which gives students an opportunity to attend school at a partner employer’s facility instead of a regular classroom.

• Hamblen County Schools, $2 million: For its partnership with Cocke County Schools and the career technical education program Turning Pathways into Highways.

• Hamilton County Schools, $2 million: For Hamilton County Schools and Chattanooga State Community College to create a MicroCollege program to provide a core set of introductory college courses during high school so students can earn dual credit toward their high school diploma and introductory college courses.

• Hardeman County Schools, $1,924,473: For a new high school program – hosted primarily at Lone Oaks Farm, an outdoor STEM education center of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture – to give students an opportunity to gain postsecondary credit and obtain industry approved credentialing and professional certifications.

• Jackson-Madison County Schools, $2 million: For Innovation Impact Institutes created through a partnership between Jackson-Madison County Schools and community organizations and postsecondary institutions to provide educational experiences for students through nontraditional schedules, learner-paced curriculum and work-based learning opportunities.

• Macon County Schools, $901,523: For TAPping Beyond Boundaries to support a TAP Program of Study for students from Macon and Jackson counties by developing the next generation of teachers by reimagining modes of learning, time and partnerships.

• Oak Ridge City Schools, $1,241,000: For collaborating with collaborate with Roane State Community College, the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratories Manufacturing Demonstration Facility to create i-School, an integrative ecosystem learning model.

• Rutherford County Schools, $1,044,125: For Empower Today’s Students to Grasp Tomorrow’s Opportunities to offer industry certification training classes after school and allow students to participate in employer-led boot camps to learn soft and entry-level skills.

• Sequatchie County Schools, $1,044,125: For Reimagine Sequatchie County High School by Building UP STEAM to provide students with work-based learning opportunities, internships, apprentice opportunities, practicum experiences and dual enrollment opportunities with partners in the community.

• Shelby County Schools, $2 million: For transforming Bolton High School into a AgriSTEM high school where time, space, partnerships and modes of learning have been reimagined throughout the school.

• Tullahoma City Schools, $759,500: For Tullahoma Virtual Academy to provide students the ability to customize their high school experience and support their individual needs.

• Wayne County Schools, $2 million: For Collinwood High School to transform the Bevis Educational Center into a forestry training center for students to take traditional and postsecondary coursework and access work-based learning opportunities.

• Wilson County Schools, $759,000: For Wilson County Early College to grow its workforce by aligning middle school and high school career and technical education programs to early college programs that allow students to earn industry certifications and associate degrees while in high school.

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