“I don’t think in the beginning these students knew they were the pacesetters they are,” said Williamstown Middle High School teacher Sandy Fitzmorris. “But I think today they know they’ve made a real mark on education in Vermont.”
At the start of fall classes those Williamstown students took up the challenge of participating in a new pilot program being offered by their school and the Community College of Vermont. Over the course of fifteen weeks they’d work with teachers from both institutions on subjects such as microcomputer applications, effective speaking, résumé writing, and more, all in an effort to earn both an ACT National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) and a Vermont Governor’s Career Ready Certificate (GCRC). As of last week, they’d succeeded, becoming the state’s first high school students to earn both certificates and more importantly, earn a leg up in today’s tight job market.
“I feel like we’re just one step ahead of everyone else,” student Aric Avery said last week after presenting his capstone portfolio project to a standing-room only crowd at CCV-Montpelier.
The case can certainly be made that they are ahead of their peers as a result of passing the course. According to Mel Donovan, the CCV faculty member who worked with Fitzmorris teaching the class, all of the students had to pass rigorous WorkKeys assessments in order to earn the two certificates. For the NCRC, she said, students were required to learn and then be tested in applied mathematics, reading for information, and locating information. All of the students not only passed, Donovan said, but passed strongly, earning the silver level in all three areas. The silver level denomination means these students are qualified for sixty-five percent of the jobs currently listed in the ACT jobs database.
In order to earn the GCRC, students not only had to have already earned the NCRC, but they also had to learn and be assessed in computer skills and various soft skills such as communication. Donovan also reported that the majority of the students have qualified for the GCRC. Along with earning the certificates, Donovan said she thought the portfolio project really pulled the entire course together for students.
“What was great for the students in creating the portfolios is that it really made all of the disparate parts come together,” Donovan said. “I think completing the portfolios really helped them see the big picture of the individual exercises.”
On January 7, Avery and numerous other students presented their portfolios to fellow students, CCV staff and faculty, VSC board members and Williamstown Middle High School staff and faculty. The portfolios served as an organizational tool, allowing students to combine materials into an online presentation package that can be easily shared via the web or displayed on computer or projector. Using Google Sites, students were able to include digital images, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and just about any other type of data that would be beneficial for an employer to have if they were considering the student for a job.Sixteen-year-old sophomore Patrick Davison presented his portfolio at the event. He quickly clicked through a few pages that were displayed on the projector screen before settling in on the results of his Kingdomality personality test, which classified him as a benevolent ruler. Although he jokingly disputed being classified as benevolent, Davison did acknowledge that it was helpful for him to have taken a test in which he learned about himself and he thought this would be useful information to have when moving on to college or the job market. Speaking after the presentation, Davison also recognized the tangible value in learning the hard skills that were taught in the course.
“I really liked learning how to use Microsoft Office, Word, and PowerPoint better because these are things I can use right now,” Davison said. “The certificate, that’s something we’ll use later for jobs and college, but the computer stuff I can use today, it’s the kind of stuff that helps me everywhere.”
And that was a major goal of the course – getting students ready for the next phase of their journey, whether it’s to college or into the workforce. According to Fitzmorris, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. The skills required to be successful in one – effective communication, collaboration, reading for information, applied mathematics, to name a few – are in large part the same for the other.
“Education now is about getting our kids ready for the 21st century,” she said. “And that means teaching both the hard skills and the soft skills.”
The program itself began early last year when Williamstown Middle High School was awarded an innovative schools grant from the Vermont Department of Education. That grant was used to set up a partnership with CCV in which Williamstown students – sophomores, juniors, and seniors – would have the opportunity to learn about college studies and career readiness.
An initial offering occurred in April of 2012 when approximately thirty Williamstown students spent two days at CCV surveying college-level courses and taking WorkKeys assessments. Then came the full offering, a jointly-taught class offered some days at Williamstown and others at CCV Montpelier, culminating in the earning of the NCRC and the GCRC. With the course now officially over, staff will spend the upcoming months debriefing and exploring ways to make the course sustainable, permanent, and in Donovan’s words, better.
“We went in from the get go very honest with these kids that if it goes well, we’ll do it again,” Donovan said. “In upcoming years, it will improve. Each time you teach something again, it just gets better and better.”
As for the first thirteen students, even though the classroom portion of the pilot program is over, they still have one last huzzah to go: next month Governor Peter Shumlin will welcome the students at the Statehouse and personally recognize them as being the first high school students in the state to earn the GCRC.
And according to Davison, that will be cool.