Progress 2015: Career studies, summer reading on schools’ lists

Kayla Pennington, 17, of Edinburg and Peyton Binebrink, 18, of Strasburg, demonstrates the use of a gait belt to support patients while walking during her Certified Nursing Assistance Class at Triplett Tech in Mount Jackson. Rich Cooley/Daily

In education, progress takes many forms.

It builds student opportunity in unique and interesting ways. It improves on technology, so students are equipped to compete with their peers in the workforce. It also ensures that no one gets lost along the way.

Progress takes time, so it starts with small steps. In coming months, area school districts plan changes to help students thrive from the education they’ll receive in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

Work expo

Many seventh-grade students have only fleeting notions of what they want to do when they grow up, but after attending an upcoming two-day event in October, dreams could become reality.

Lauren Miller, 17, of Strasburg, left, and Katie Dove,18, of Mount Jackson, right, practice taking vital signs on a mannequin during their Certified Nursing Assistants class at Triplett Tech in Mount Jackson. Rich Cooley/Daily

The first ever Worlds of Work Expo on Oct. 20 and 21 at the Family Sports Center in Kernstown will bring together public schools in Clarke, Frederick, Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, Warren and Winchester in an effort to help students consider their options sooner.

The idea for the expo came from an event in Mobile, Alabama, which Shenandoah County’s STEM and Career and Technical Education Specialist Katie Rice said combined 12,000 students in a career fair for students just beginning along their path to career success.

“Our 2,800 is not to their scale, but it’s huge for us,” Rice said. “We’re really excited about it.”

But it won’t just be a day of looking at job pamphlets, she said. Organized by Todd Lynn, coordinator of career and technical education for Winchester Public Schools in cooperation with Middletown’s Lord Fairfax Community College, the career fair will be a hands-on journey for students studying various career fields and learning which ones interest them.

“So often with career fairs, we have adults telling kids about things, you know, standing there and talking to them,” Rice said. “We wanted to do something really different. You know, more dynamic.”

Rebecca Ergenbright, 17, practices moving fellow student Caelyn Moylan, 18, right, both of Woodstock, in a wheel chair during the Certified Nursing Assistants Class at Triplett Tech in Mount Jackson. The program is in its second year and school officials are looking to potentially add a biomedical science class to their curriculum. Rich Cooley/Daily

The hope is to make this a yearly collaboration, said Principal Jane Baker of Blue Ridge Technical Center in Front Royal. Schools will fund what they can, mainly small expenses like transportation, and team with community partners on providing “career worlds” that students can explore at the expo.

“It’s a real nifty thing that’s going on,” Baker said.

The expo follows in the wake of recent Virginia initiatives that Rice said will begin with middle school students thinking about jobs that interest them and playing to their talents and skills.

“The hope is that we spark an interest and give students a better idea of, ‘I like this; I don’t like this,'” she said.

“There’s a lot more out there than our students are aware,” she said.

Brianna Grim, 18, of Mount Jackson, left, and Whitney Smedley, 17, right, of Strasburg, fold clothes during their Certified Nursing Assistants Class at Triplett Tech. Rich Cooley/Daily

Career training

The Academic and Career Plans of Study program through the Virginia Department of Education matches students in middle and high schools with counselors to help children choose course electives more helpful to them along their career paths.

In high school alone, Rice said, the program offers six to eight blocks of career-specific education for students before they even begin college.

“It’s helping them to learn how to look forward,” Rice said. “I think people do better when they know how to set goals.”

It’s a direction in which public school career and technical education has guided students for years. Not every student will go to college, Rice said, but everyone will eventually need a job.

At Triplett Tech in Mount Jackson and Blue Ridge Technical Center in Front Royal, acquiring an industry credential has become a major component of high school graduation. All students of career and technical education in Virginia will soon need to graduate with at least one industry credential, such as a food handler’s license or cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification, depending on their course of study.

“That is a big shift for us,” Rice said. “We’re adjusting to that.”

“It’s exciting for me. We need people with skills,” she said.

New programs

In Shenandoah County, specific needs for the 2015-16 academic year include summer reading, technology and music initiatives. But before the new school budget is finalized, teachers and administrators are looking at funding from the Moore Educational Trust to breathe life into new and unique programs.

Thankful for the 16 grants totaling $115,762, Director of Elementary Education Chadwick Hensley said it was by chance that funding from the yearly grants will support so many of the county’s schools.

“It’s a really neat thing for the school system for sure,” he said.

Grants include STREAM programming and computer coding at Ashby Lee Elementary, STEM activities in central campus schools, LittleBits modular tools that complement Maker Spaces at Sandy Hook Elementary, project-based learning at Signal Knob Middle, the Engineering Design Process for science teachers at Peter Muhlenberg Middle, math game-based learning at Stonewall Jackson High, a computer numerical controlled machine for agriculture and physics studies at Strasburg High School and foreign language learning experiences at Central High School.

Fitness-minded grants will fund lifelong fitness skills and kinesthetic classrooms with stability balls, wobble chairs and desks with bicycle pedals at Central High and North Fork Middle, Hensley said.

All three elementary schools have funding for enhanced summer reading opportunities, and high schools will benefit from a new county jazz music library.

Using grant-funded music, a new county high school jazz band with a big band feel plans rehearsals beginning in April and a first performance on May 29 at Riley Park in Woodstock, said Robert Curry, band director at Stonewall Jackson.

The idea came from students who attended the county’s summer arts academy.

“Students said we need to do this more than just one week during the summer,” Curry recalled.

When considering grant applications, a committee of mostly county administrators made recommendations to the trust started by the estate of Strasburg resident Helen Moore after her death in 2005, Superintendent Jeremy Raley explained.

“We are extremely thankful for the living legacy,” he said.

Much of what the school division hopes to accomplish in coming years is contingent on future funding, he said, but Moore Grants make some possibilities available now.

They won’t replace the need for county funding to support budget requests, but some grants can get the ball rolling on future programs like summer reading initiatives that help prevent backsliding while students are on vacation from school.

Fully funded through a $4,164 grant, the Summer Reading RAMpage at Signal Knob Middle School in Strasburg builds upon a program the school started last year, said Reading Specialist Mary Beth Sharp.

Last spring, students developed summer reading bucket lists, but when they returned in the fall, they confessed they hadn’t read the books. Some didn’t have a ride to area libraries, and others were too busy with summer activities.

“We needed to get some of these books in their hands,” Price said.

The new program provides a check system to better motivate sixth and seventh graders who elect to participate.

Students may choose their own books on a field trip to Books-a-Million in Winchester, and grant money will fund the purchasing of books and staffing of two teachers to provide 30-minute home visits to students.

Last year, “There was no one to say, a week after school got out, ‘Hey did you get that book?” Price said. “[This] will put the books in their hands to get started.”

Though Signal Knob didn’t have success with summertime phone or email updates, area elementary schools hope their new Books By Mail Reading Program will spark enthusiasm among young readers.

Describing the effort as a pen pal system, Principal Stephen Povlish at Ashby Lee Elementary School in Quicksburg said it will encourage second grade students to write to teachers about their progress on books received through the mail.

A continuation of a successful program the school started last year, Books By Mail is fully funded through a $6,200 grant and allows the inclusion of more students, selected by their need to practice reading skills over the summer.

Students keep the books they receive by mail.

“With this grant,” Povlish said, “it now allows us to move forward, whatever happens with the budget.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com