At Warren County High School in Warrenton, North Carolina, students aren’t just working on a high school diploma; they’re getting a head start on a future career.
The school’s innovative approach to career and college preparation gives students a clearer view of what lies beyond high school. It is an opportunity to develop key skills like collaboration, creativity and problem solving that will help them be successful in their careers or future studies.
The high school also builds strong community relationships, invests in classroom technology that supports hands-on learning and offers career academies with specialized courses to help students hone in on what they want to do after they graduate.
Opening doors to a brighter future
The three academies are Engineering and Construction Technology, Medical Science and Emergency Services and Business, and Finance and Entrepreneurship. They opened several years ago after the local school district decided it needed to do a better job preparing high school students for life after school.
Warren County is a rural area with a struggling economy and limited job prospects for young people. Many have to leave to find jobs in larger cities, and the career academies are aimed at changing that. The academies focus on career paths that are tied to the local job market and are considered to offer the best chance for students to find work close to home.
“We’re working very hard to try to give them the skills in our schools,” says Ernie Conner, director of Technology and Career and Technical Education at Warren County Schools. “We’ll utilize technology and do whatever it takes so that our students can be successful.”
Instead of taking courses randomly as they did in the past, ninth-grade students now choose an academy and take an organized sequence of courses that gives them hands-on experience to prepare them for a specific career path. They also learn soft skills that they need to be successful in the workplace and beyond.
Ernie says today’s employers are looking for people who know how to do the work but also how to identify problems and work together to solve them. “Business and industry representatives tell us that we need to make sure that our students can work collaboratively, be creative and organized and must have critical thinking skills.”
TAPPING INTO REAL-WORLD BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES
Pamela Jordan teaches in the Business, Finance and Entrepreneurship Academy and has seen a marked improvement in her students’ engagement level since they started having to think about possible careers.
She says the curriculum now seems more relevant to them, and the entire teaching and learning dynamic in her classroom has changed. She has become more of a facilitator, guiding students through relevant, hands-on learning experiences.
“When you shift that mindset to something more purposeful, they get more invested in the process and it’s not just us teaching. We can take a more facilitative approach.”
The high school’s first Span™ visual collaboration system was installed in Pamela’s classroom a few months ago. Many of the marketing and business courses she teaches are project based and focus heavily on ideation and collaboration, so the Span system seemed like a natural fit.
Pamela is always looking for ways to tie her curriculum to the real world of business, and the Span system is helping her do that more efficiently. She recently heard about a competition by DECA, an international organization that promotes business education for high school and college students. She thought it would be a great way to help her students apply some of the marketing principles they were learning in class.
The task was to create a marketing video to promote school yearbook sales for one of the organization’s partner companies. Pamela turned the contest into a collaboration project using the Span system.
First, she got all 22 students to ideate, using digital sticky notes to post ideas on the large canvas. Then, they sorted the ideas and voted on which ones they wanted to include. After that, they chose three classmates who would be featured in the video. Students did all their brainstorming, prioritizing, grouping and collaborating on the interactive workspace with minimal input from Pamela.
In the past, her students would have used flip charts, paper sticky notes and markers to generate ideas and collaborate. She says the Span system made the process much more efficient and a lot more engaging for her students.
“Now they’re using technology to bring it to life. They’re getting a kick out of seeing their work instead of just talking about it,” she says. “It’s another tool in my toolkit to engage my students and encourage collaboration.”
She also likes that she can see each student’s contribution. This helps keep individual students accountable for their own work, which is not always easy with group projects.
She says the system is proving to be a valuable teaching tool that gives her more visibility into learning and a new way to inspire students with technology they intuitively know and are instantly attracted to.
Investing in skills and technology pays off
This year’s seniors will be the first to graduate from the academy programs at Warren County High School. Ernie Conner is looking forward to seeing how they compare to previous graduates when it comes to finding jobs and enrolling in postsecondary studies.
But he’s already seen signs that the school’s unique approach to career and college readiness is working. With graduation still months away, some students have passed industry certifications and others have earned community college certificates.
The local business and community college community is also telling Warren County educators they’re on the right track. After one recent tour, Pamela says several business and college representatives talked about how impressed they were with the leading edge technology the school was using to educate students and how well students were being prepared for the next phase of their lives.
“I think that tells us we’re on to something great, and we’re doing a good job preparing students for higher-order thinking, critical thinking and collaborative teamwork.”
A NEW TOOL FOR FUTURE-READY LEARNERS
Find out more about the technology solution that’s helping Warren County students develop the collaborative learning skills they need for future success.