White House officials announced that the local school system was one of only 24 in the nation and the only one in Tennessee to receive funding as part of the new Youth CareerConnect grant program, which distributed $170 million among the chosen schools and school systems.
Bradley County Schools Grant Coordinator Patti Hunt said the $4,499,121 award came as a big surprise to her office’s staff, and she said they did not learn they had received the award until after the White House had publicly released the list of grant recipients.
“We’re just so excited,” Hunt said. “It was an exciting way to start your Monday.”
President Barack Obama made an official announcement about the grants being awarded during a visit to Bladensburg High School in Bladensburg, Md., the same day.
He said the new initiative, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Education, will allow schools to update their programs so students can be ready for college and to enter competitive fields like science and technology.
“We asked high schools to develop partnerships with colleges and employers and create classes that focus on real-life applications for the fields of the future — fields like science and technology and engineering and math,” Obama said. “And part of the reason we have to do this now is because other countries, they’ve got a little bit of a lead on us on some of these areas.”
During his speech, he praised a high school in Nashville that had created “academies” within it to allow students to learn about specific fields like finance and broadcasting.
Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel pointed out having students attend academies related to specific career fields is something the county school system already does, and the new funding will allow the school system to continue what it has accomplished with the academies since it received a different federal grant to help start them.
“I am very excited for our students, as this grant will continue the transition to the academy models that we implemented with the federal Smaller Learning Communities Grant,” he said. “This was a very competitive grant process. Bradley County Schools’ staff worked very hard to write this grant in a way that reflects our needs and emphasizes the great partnerships we have in the community.”
The Bradley County Schools system currently has about 450 students enrolled in career and technical education classes between both of its high schools each year. Programs have students learning job skills in fields like business, agriculture, information technology, culinary arts, health care and others. Students complete these studies as part of their regular school days, and many of the programs employ the help of local partnerships.
The system currently has more than 33 community partnerships that include businesses that want to see local students learn the skills they need to be qualified enough to work there, as well as local colleges.
Those partners include: Cormetech, Whirlpool, Cleveland Utilities, Lonza, Bradley Health Care and Rehabilitation, SkyRidge Medical Center, Signature HealthCare, the City of Cleveland, D & W Machining, Quality Machining Services, Cleveland Tubing, Wacker Polysilicon, Oasis, Olin, Life Care Centers, Mars Chocolate, Eaton, Cleveland Associated Industries, Bradley County EMS, Lee University, Cleveland State Community College and the Tennessee Center of Applied Technology’s Athens location.
The school system has also been focusing on making sure students not only graduate but graduate with some kind of career training from CTE courses or college credit from things like dual enrollment, said Hunt.
“We want our students in Bradley County to not only go into careers they love, but careers where they can be employed,” she said.
While the grant will allow the school system to keep doing what it has been doing, it will also provide the funding for some new offerings.
The school system had to submit a preliminary budget along with its application for Youth CareerConnect funds, so Hunt said much of the money already has a place to go.
Hunt said plans for the money include hiring college and career counselors to be stationed in each of the high schools, hiring a central office employee who would serve as a liaison between the school system and area colleges, adding to the amount of professional development teachers receive and purchasing new equipment for students to use in the classroom.
She pointed out some of the equipment used by some career and technical education can be expensive to purchase, and this grant will allow for some additions and updates.
“It’s like an extension of what we’re already doing,” Hunt said. “It’s taking it to the next level.”
The Youth CareerConnect grants are awarded to help schools and school systems “redesign the teaching and learning experience for youth to more fully prepare them with the knowledge, skills and industry-relevant education needed to get on the pathway to a successful career,” according to Monday morning’s White House announcement.
The president stressed during his speech not all of the schools that applied received the grant funding because “we don’t have enough money for everybody,” and he and his administration wanted “to force schools to think hard and redesign” their programs and course offerings.
“But the great thing is that, through this competition, schools across the country that entered have changed the way they prepare their students and have already made enormous improvements, even before they get the grant,” Obama said. “The winners across the board are doing the kinds of stuff that will allow other schools to start duplicating what they’re doing.”