Starting right after spring break, counselors and teachers in the Austin school district will pitch eighth-graders on a new sort of high school – one that lasts for up to six years, but ends with an interview for a job such as a cybersecurity analyst with Dell Inc. or a nurse with the Seton Healthcare Family.
Students slated to attend LBJ and Reagan high schools will get the first shot at the new academies, which will start this fall with about 70 incoming freshmen at each campus.
The Career Launch program is the latest effort to give students — mostly first-generation college students and those from low-income families — a chance to earn an associate degree while working toward their high school diplomas.
But Career Launch also will serve as a workforce training program, with mentoring and guaranteed interviews for high demand jobs for students who complete the work.
Students at Reagan can earn a degree in computer science, with a focus on cybersecurity and data mining. Those in the LBJ program can obtain a degree in applied science, specializing in nursing and other health fields. Dell and Seton employees will help train and mentor students. The jobs pay above the Austin area’s median household income of $58,000 — the average salary for a nurse in Austin is about $66,000, according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
“This opens more doors for our kids,” Reagan Principal Anabel Garza said. “They’re exposed to things that they’d never be exposed to before. Then they know it’s possible. Kids are enthusiastic about something in their future.”
The district has been working with both Dell and Seton, as well as Austin Community College and the University of Texas to create the program.
While most classes will be offered at the high school in the early years, the advanced coursework will likely take place at Austin Community College. The program lasts for up to six years, but students can complete it earlier.
“They’re not just earning certificates in isolation but a high employment probability if they do what they need to do,” said Craig Shapiro, Austin’s associate superintendent of high schools. “Their major is tied to an industry instead of a general diploma. For those who know they want to do computer science and health, this is a great way for kids to get right into it.”
The Manor district, which recently launched an early college high school at Manor High, also will offer a second degree pathway in applied science. The four-year plan gives students a chance to earn specialization in automation, robotics and controls, and certification as a production technician. Employees from Applied Materials Inc. and Samsung will help train and mentor the participating Manor High School students.
“It’s giving our kids options and diversifying their skills and looking at a high demand area that is right in our backyard,” Manor Superintendent Royce Avery said. “These kids can stay right in this community and engage and be first in line to interview with these two corporations.”
The three campuses were among 19 early college high schools that received state grants to establish workforce training academies on their campuses to better prepare students for post-school success, reduce the local skills gap and create a pipeline for local employment.
Each of the three schools received $400,000 in state grants to launch the programs.
“This is applied learning at its best, delivering high-quality technical preparation and a well-rounded course of study,” said Drew Scheberle, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president for policy. “The key is the program gives graduates what they need to earn credentials that are in demand and pay them well when they get hired.”
The workspaces at the schools will depart from traditional classrooms, more resembling a workplace in a high-tech company or hospital.
LBJ, for example, will have medical equipment and hospital beds as part of the health sciences training, and Reagan will have state-of-the art computers and equipment.
“On day one, when the students walk into the classroom, what they learn has direct relevancy to the IT market,” said Jeremy Ford, director of corporate giving for Dell.
Even if the students decide not to complete the program, the curriculum will still provide some certifications they can use in the fields.
“One of the objectives is whatever the exit point for the individual, they still get value out of that and can build on it,” Ford said.
Austin’s programs are patterned after the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools, better known as P-TECH schools, that began in Brooklyn in 2011, with IBM as the workforce partner.
A bill filed in the Legislature would establish P-TECHs in Texas, and could lead to more programs like Career Launch.