SANFORD - Career and college advisors at the nine public high schools in Chatham, Harnett, and Lee counties have been busy this fall working with students in the Central Carolina Works program.
It's obviously working. The program has averaged 250 per term over the past few years, and grew to 429 for the fall semester. With the career and college advisors in place, the program is projected to have 678 students in the spring that does not include Lee Early College students.
Central Carolina Works (CCW) is an educational initiative by a consortium including Central Carolina Community College, education (Chatham County Schools, Harnett County Schools, and Lee County Schools), business, industry, and community leaders.
CCW funds the placement of career and college advisors in each of the public high schools in Chatham, Harnett, and Lee counties. These advisors work one-on-one with students to help them take advantage of the state-funded Career and College Promise (CCP) program.
CCP enables high school students to enroll, tuition-free, in college credit courses that also apply toward their high school diploma. By the time they graduate from high school, they have a jump-start on their career or college education.
"Central Carolina Works was designed and conceived to help the student and their family who may not know what post K-12 education and employment is best suited for their interests and abilities," says Kirk Bradley, Chairman, President & C.E.O. of Lee-Moore Capital Company, who spearheaded the intensive fund-raising to launch the initiative. "By providing a trained professional to help these students understand both curriculum and workforce outcomes available through CCCC, they can make better choices earlier in their middle and high school years.
"I am a firm believer that all students should be on a minimum K-14 path if not seeking further education. By making them aware of the Career and College Promise, these students can get almost a year of first- and second-year post high school education while still in high school. The skills and qualifications received during this period leading to a certificate, diploma, or degree will make these students competitive in the 21st Century global economy."
Central Carolina Community College President Dr. Bud Marchant says CCW is a great example of regional cooperation driven by the private sector to increase the educational opportunities for high school and college students alike. "As manufacturing returns to the United States, the Central Carolina region will be ready to meet the high tech demands of those jobs," says Marchant.
"Central Carolina Works is a great example of collaboration and support from multiple stakeholders to begin cultivating a pipeline of skilled workers," says Dr. Scott Ralls, N.C. Community College System President.
"We continue to grapple with an interest gap among young people when it comes to technical careers. This is one of the programs that is serving as a model to scale up the concept of placing career coaches in high schools to increase interest in programs that train North Carolina's workforce."
Dr. Lisa Chapman, Senior Vice President for Programs and Student Services/ Chief Academic Officer for the N.C. Community College, knows well of the program from her days as CCCC's former Executive Vice President.
She says that the community college system is including a request for recurring funds in its 2015-2017 budget priorities to establish a fund to match business, philanthropy, and local funding to replicate the Central Carolina Works model. "We clearly see the placement of college career coaches as a great strategy to address the interest gap in many technical careers among young people," says Chapman.
"I think Central Carolina Works is a tremendous program that very specifically targets North Carolina's need to assist students in both making informed decisions about career opportunities and also supporting those choices with targeted academic preparation to prepare for those opportunities," says Chapman. "Working with high school counselors, the advisors are taking advantage of connecting interest and aptitude students express through middle school and high school career fairs, weekend and summer technology camps, and college tours with Career and College Promise coursework that targets career choices that match those interests and aptitudes."
Lara Abels, Lead Career & College Advisor at Southern Lee High School, says the CCW program offers students an incredible opportunity -- free college courses. "It really has the potential to change a student's course," she says. "Students can enroll in a CTE (Career Technical Education) pathway where they can earn a credential, at no cost to them, and join the workforce right out of high school steps ahead of their peers.
"Students may also choose to take college transfer courses, which can earn them anywhere between one class or as much as a year of college at no cost to them while they are still in high school. It's incredible!"
Kelli Hammond, Lead Career & College Advisor at Chatham Central High School, notes that CCW is, in her opinion, the best opportunity for students in high school right now. "Whether students have the goal of attending a four-year college or university, or are interested in more hands-on training with our Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings, there is truly something for every student," she says. "While students have been able to take dual enrollment classes for some time now, the current structure is geared toward allowing students to take more classes than ever before and in more CTE pathways than in the past. This fall, we are expanding our pathways to include Accounting, Nursing Assistant, and Library and Information Technology to Chatham County students, in addition to the pathways we have previously offered."
"With the leadership and vision that Central Carolina Works has in place, the expectations are endless," says Foster Cates, an advisor who serves at Lee County High School. "Every student should take part in this program because it is free, students will understand the rigor that college courses require, college admission reps like students challenging themselves, with a C average or better students earn the college credit, and students can develop their own time management schedule before they go to college."
It's obviously a program that has drawn much interest, with student growth in the CCP program.
Cates noted that by the end of the school, Lee County High School would have around 110 students that have taken at least one class. Abel said there were 83 Southern Lee High School students enrolled in the CCP program this fall, with a projected spring enrollment of approximately 120 students. Hammond has seen around 3 percent growth this year at Chatham Central.
"We're trying to increase the participation rate each year," says Virginia Brown, CCCC's Director of Secondary Partnerships.
This fall has been an exciting time for the new program and its advisors.
Hammond talked about the development and growth of the program since February. "In less than a year, we have been awarded an $800,000 grant from the Educational Workforce Innovation Fund from the Governor's office and hired seven new advisors. It's remarkable to think of all that has taken place during such a short period of time," she says.
"It has been exciting to see our program come to life," says Abels. "As a team, we started with goals and objectives from our grants on paper and now it has developed into a functioning, expanding program that is already helping students identify and work toward their career and college goals."
Cates noted that the most exciting part about being an advisor is implementing a plan that will turn a student's career and educational dreams into reality. "Student success is the motivating factor as an advisor; ensuring we put the best plan in place for them to be successful is exciting."
The CCW career and college advisors are: in Lee County, Lara Abels at Southern Lee High School and Foster Cates at Lee County High School; in Chatham County, Kelli Hammond, Chatham Central High School; April Hammonds, Northwood High School, and Steve Heesacker, Jordan-Matthews High School; and in Harnett County, Tracy Autry at Triton High School, Kimberly Brzozowski at Harnett Central High School, Elvin James at Western Harnett High School, and Latoya Parker at Overhills High School. Virginia Brown works with students from private and charter schools.
Advisors spend much of their time with the high school juniors and seniors, advising them and registering them for class, then monitoring their progress and working on strategies to help them be successful.
The advisors also work with ninth and tenth graders to help them plan ahead so that when they become juniors and seniors, Central Carolina Works will be a part of their high school plan.
Even eighth graders are included in early discussions. "It's really important for us to reach out and create the awareness at the eighth grade levels," says Brown. "Our goal is that they include CCP courses once they become a junior or senior."
Abels said her expectation of the program is that there will be a significant jump in enrollment. "I expect our grant objectives to be met: an increase in the number of students graduating high school with a college certificate, an increase in postsecondary attendance and completion, and an impact on our service area economies due to a better prepared workforce."
Hammond is optimistic about the potential for the program. "I do expect that upon our success, we will see other community colleges and school systems in the state and beyond joining together to replicate our model," she says.
Brown remains excited about the opportunities provided by Central Carolina Works. "This is a great opportunity and CCW is a way in which students will have more support in navigating the opportunities available to them through the community college," says Brown. "We're all appreciative for those who worked to make it happen. I am so passionate about the partnership we have with Chatham, Harnett, and Lee counties. A program like CCW would never work without amazing partners like them. I am grateful to them in their entirety - superintendents, directors, counselors, career development coordinators, teachers, and staffs."
"My dream would be in a few short years, 100 percent of the graduates from high school in Chatham, Harnett, and Lee counties will do so with at least one year's worth of credits toward the certificate, diploma, or degree of their choosing," says Bradley.
For more information on the Central Carolina Works program, contact Virginia T. Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 919-718-7370, or visit the website www.cccc.edu/highschool/inHS, or visit the CCW blog www.cccc.edu/ccwblog.
Central Carolina Works Career and College Advisors include, left to right: front row, Tracy Autry, Kimberly Brzozowski, April Hammonds, Lara Abels, and Latoya Parker; back row, Elvin James, Kelli Hammond, Virginia Brown, Foster Cates, and Steve Heesacker.