The Career and Technical Education department of the Bradley County school system has been looking for ways to add to what will be available to students with the nearly $4.5 million grant it received in April.
Arlette Robinson, the Bradley County CTE director, and other school system staff havebeen looking at the possibility of purchasing new equipment to add to some programs, something she said is not often done on such a grand scale.
“It’s an exciting time,” Robinson said.
On April 7, President Barack Obama announced the list of 24 schools and school systems across the country that would be receiving funding as part of the new Youth CareerConnect grant program, which distributed $170 million to the chosen recipients.
Bradley County’s school system was the only one in Tennessee to be chosen for the program, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Education and meant to encourage schools to add more college and career-related programming.
Bradley County received $4,499,121, which Robinson said will be used for everything from equipment to staffing needs.
The grant proposal written with the grant coordinator Patti Hunt focused mostly on three areas — advanced manufacturing, information technology and health science, Robinson said.
During his announcement, Obama said schools had been asked to “develop partnerships with colleges and employers and create classes that focus on real-life applications for the fields of the future.” These were the fields the Bradley County school system focused on in its proposal.
Some $400,000 of the grant money will go toward the purchase of new equipment for the advanced manufacturing, information technology and health science-related programs at the system’s two high schools, Bradley Central and Walker Valley.
Robinson said one example of the type of equipment that could be purchased would be a telemedicine device that would allow students to do things like listen to heartbeats and check other vital signs of patients located elsewhere.
She has also spoken with people at local manufacturing companies to find out what equipment could best be used to train students on manufacturing skills.
The CTE department plans to purchase 450 new electronic devices that can be used by students in both county high schools.
Robinson said it has not yet been determined exactly what those devices will be — whether they will be devices like tablet computers or laptop ones.
Another big focus will be to use some of the grant money to help fund opportunities for high school students to partner with companies and organizations throughout the community.
This summer, the Bradley County school system will be providing scholarships to its students who want to attend two of the STEM Camps being offered by Cleveland State Community College.
June 16 through 20, the college will be hosting an advanced robotics camp, and a biochemistry camp will take place July 14 through 18.
Robinson said arrangements have already been made to provide full scholarships for the first 60 interested students who want to attend either of the camps, and they need only call 614-8793 to register and mention they are students at Bradley County high schools. Once that is verified, the fees for the camps will be waived.
There are also plans to add to existing programs in partnership with the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. Such programs will include career fairs, tours of local manufacturing plants, job shadowing opportunities and events in which students will practice their job interview skills.
Robinson said the school system is also in the process of hiring a new staff member who will spend all his or her time working with local companies and organizations to arrange opportunities for students, including internships.
The school system currently has about 450 students enrolled in career and technical education classes in both high schools. Students are learning job skills in 18 different programs, including business and marketing, finance, agriculture, information technology, criminal justice, cosmetology, culinary arts, health science and others.
Though the Youth CareerConnect grant has seen the Bradley County school system’s CTE department giving more focus to three specific areas, Robinson said the funding the grant provided will free up more money in the regular budget to focus on other programs as well.
“What this allows us to do is to use … all those funds to help enhance those other programs,” she said. “We’re focusing on all programs.”
She said they will be looking for ways to allow students from other programs to benefit.
For example, money budgeted for marketing the new programs could potentially be spent on the broadcast journalism and marketing programs in the local high schools, since those students could use their skills to get the word out about them.
While there are no plans to add new CTE programs to the list of 18 the school system already offers, Robinson said those programs will continue to evolve with the needs of career fields in the community — and even within the school system itself.
For example, one of the most recently added course offerings in the high schools, “Teaching as a Profession,” came about when the school system realized the need to teach students the skills tto become future teachers.
Another focus will be on improving the “academies” at both county high schools that teach freshmen skills to prepare them to enter the other career-specific programs.
The months during summer break will continue to be spent looking for ways to make improvements to the programs at Bradley Central High School and Walker Valley High School and pinning down the specifics of how to make the most of a larger-than-usual budget.