‘Youth CareerConnect’ Grants Fund STEM Focused Programs

September 29, 2014 8:00 AM

Photo Credit Thinkstock

Photo Credit Thinkstock

Students graduating from Toledo Technology Academy (TTA), a Toledo Public School District magnet school, leave with more than a well-rounded high school education. They have skills—and often college credits and hands-on work experience—in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM.) Last spring, TTA graduates showcased their talents for Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Labor Secretary Tom Perez when the two cabinet members toured the country to highlight successful models for integrating education with the demands of a 21st century job market. Toledo Public School District is one of 24 districts that received federal funding under the new Youth CareerConnect grant program.

CareerConnect is a $107 million competition to redesign American education. “We’ve got to think about new ways of doing things,” President Obama said in an April 7th speech. “And part of our concern has been our high schools. A lot of them were designed with curriculums based on the 1940s and ‘50s and ‘60s, and haven’t been updated.  So the idea behind this competition is how do we start making high school, in particular, more interesting, more exciting, more relevant to young people.”

The competition encourages local school districts and post-secondary institutions to develop STEM-focused programs that will graduate students with work-ready skills and knowledge. Youth CareerConnect uses a three-pronged approach to updating the nation’s schools: Employer engagement and work-based learning, a focus on STEM programs to fill the labor market’s skill gap, and integration of high school and post-secondary training. Toledo Technology Academy harnesses all three.

Students at TTA work with local manufacturers such as General Motors and Ohio Belting and Transmission, serving as business partners to mentor students and give them hands-on work experience. TTA curriculum goes beyond the standard English and history classes to include coursework in robotics, electronics, machine tools and energy systems management.

The school collaborates with local colleges to offer students courses that earn college credits and industry-recognized credentials. “Instead of making students stare at textbooks all day,” says TTA Assistant Director David Volk in a Labor Department blog post, “we put them in front of real challenges – such as building robots.” The nearly $4 million CareerConnect grant will allow TTA to expand its programs and enroll more students.

Funding for the program comes from revenues generated by the H-1B visa program. H-1B work visas are issued to foreign workers, allowing them to temporary hold jobs in specialized fields where a shortage of skilled workers exists. The intent of the Youth CareerConnect legislation is to fill positions currently held by temporary foreign workers with U.S. citizens.

Gillian Burdett is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.