PROVIDENCE—More than 300 educators and local business leaders took time out of their weekend this past Saturday morning to participate in the first-ever Prepare RI summit, a state initiative which “closes the gap” between student learning and future, high-demand careers.
“It is not just about test scores or graduation rates,” said Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner Ken Wagner. “It is about preparing students in a way that the people who will employ our students feel that they are aligned with what they need.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo, who was unable to attend, kicked off the summit in a short video about the mission behind Prepare RI.
“Prepare RI will build flexible pathways for all young people in the state, from kindergarten to a career,” she said. “The initiative was built on the belief that all young people, regardless of background or intended career, will need some form of post-secondary credential and working experience to be successful in today’s economy.”
“For businesses, Prepare RI ensures employers have the workforce they need to thrive,” continued Raimondo.
Prepare RI, which was first launched in 2016, is funded through a $2 million grant from New Skills for Youth (NSFY), a $75 million nationwide program developed by financial services firm JPMorgan Chase in collaboration with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), a non-profit headed by education public officials whose mission is the same as Prepare RI’s; to ensure students are career-ready.
Raimondo said on Saturday that through the Prepare RI program, educators and district administrators will have better guidance on how to incorporate career education classes, as well as work-based and individualized learning opportunities, within school curricula.
“Our state’s future depends on building career pathways for young people,” she asserted. “That is exactly what Prepare RI does.”
During the summit, educators and business leaders broke off to discuss how their schools are already including career and technical and work-based programs within their schools, and how the state can help coordinate efforts with companies looking for qualified graduates.
Stacie Haines-Mayne, a Prepare RI ambassador and counselor at Chariho Regional School District, explained to educators on Saturday that the state is supporting a revamped Individual Learning Plan (ILP) process. An ILP is an organic document created in partnership with a student’s teachers, advisors, and parents in order that the student receives the most meaningful educational experiences and works towards academic and career goals.
“When Rhode Island first rolled out the ILP process, they said, ‘this is going to happen’ and gave no foundation of what it was going to look like,” she said. “Part of my work as ambassador is pushing it to make sense for people, to try to give [educators] a menu of options.”
Haines-Mayne added that the state, through Prepare RI, will provide more technical support to districts and follow-up on whether implementation of ILPs has been successful.
“Prepare RI is part of developing ILPs into a more effective process,” she said. “We engage in education and career resources opportunities and share labor market information. An ILP is a great offshoot in making the counseling process work.”
According to RIDE, enrollment in career and technical programs has risen 27 percent from 2016 to 2017, and dual and concurrent enrollment by 150 percent. North Kingstown High School Principal Dr. Denise Mancieri said at the summit that North Kingstown School District, with programs in finance, robotics and Information Technology, is ahead of many in its offerings to students from within the district and beyond.
“I feel good where North Kingstown fits in this equation,” she said. “We have the faculty to jump on any offering. There are a lot of schools and teachers having conversations, but it was very rigid before, that you need this one thing to graduate. Not all kids fit that mode. Now we have a bigger pool of options.”
Mancieri added that work-based and career programs are successful in North Kingstown because educators and advisors do a good job of communicating with students about their own career interests and how to achieve them.
“We have some teachers in our building that have always corralled students, saying, ‘hey, I see you are on this trajectory, you might be interested in this class,” she explained. “We ask the students, ‘what do you think you need?’ They are a powerful group, and sometimes they don’t know how powerful they are.”
The North Kingstown principal also said that the school has received grants of $50,000 from the Real Jobs RI program and approximately $250,000 from Project Lead the Way, a not-for-profit organization which helps districts develop programs in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) research areas.
“We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew, so we are methodically building programs,” she said. “Right now, we are looking at IT, but next will be the music program because Tony Silveira has done an amazing job to be ready putting that in. We have room to grow.”