R.I. education forum tackles career readiness (Providence Journal)

By Christine Dunn
Journal Staff Writer

Posted Oct 21, 2017 at 1:18 PM. Updated Oct 21, 2017 at 1:18 PM 

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — “This is about doing things differently,” state education Commissioner Ken Wagner said Saturday.

Wagner was speaking to educators from across the state, as well as partners from the business community, at the education department’s Prepare Rhode Island forum, held at URI’s Providence campus on Washington Street.

Prepare Rhode Island, he said, is about “aligning what our economy needs with what families need and want for their kids.”

That can mean exposing students to career experiences outside of school walls to broaden their awareness and explore possibilities, as well as helping students earn college credits while in high school. At Rogers High School in Newport, students have learned skills that have helped them pay for college or other post-secondary credentials once they leave high school, according to Newport Public Schools Superintendent Colleen Jermain.

It’s not the “voke” school approach of the 1970s and ’80s, Wagner said. It’s time to start thinking about career education in a different way. All young people need to be challenged to explore careers so they are better prepared for the modern work force.

In January, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo announced that Rhode Island was one of 10 states that won a $2 million grant from the New Skills for Youth initiative, and this money supports the launch of Prepare Rhode Island, with the goal to “strengthen career-focused education that ends with postsecondary degrees or credentials aligned with high-skill jobs.”

At the opening session Saturday, Raimondo talked to the crowd via a recorded video presentation.

“All young people are going to need some kind of postsecondary work credential and experience to be successful,” she said.

That doesn’t mean putting students on “one track for the rest of their lives,” said Jessica David of the Rhode Island Foundation. “That’s not the way the world works anymore.” David participated in a cross-sector panel Saturday morning along with Wagner; Jermain; Cathleen Finn of IBM; Lisa Basaccia, chief human resources officer for CVS health; and Karlisle Wilbur, a graphic-design student at Johnson & Wales University.

Jermain said in Newport, some students earn associates degree before they leave high school, which reduces the educational burden on family budgets, whether they enter the work force immediately or go on to four-year schools.

Wilbur said she “had no idea” what her career goals were when she was in high school, and when she was in career and technical education courses, her aunts and uncles said, “we thought you were a little smarter than that.” That’s the mindset that needs to change, she said.

Spencer Sherman