Re-imagining the High School Experience in Fairfax County

As I walked into Mount Vernon High School’s recent PTSA meeting, I had the pleasure of meeting two seniors who were returning to school after their internship at IntelSat. The young man and woman were enthusiastic about the skills they were learning and the opportunity to have a workplace experience while in high school through Genesys Works a program that began in 2016 in Fairfax County with a grant from AT&T. Genesys Works is an innovative organization that changes the life trajectory of underprivileged high school students by providing extensive training and year-long internships at major corporations during their senior year in high school.

The conversation with these high school students reflects the changes happening in Fairfax County Public Schools as we strive to create more opportunities for students to explore career options that can lead to high demand high wage professions either directly out of high school or continuing on to a 2 or 4 year college degree. It is essential that we empower today’s young people with the skills and work experiences to develop a mindset that they can succeed.

Since my time as the PTSA President of West Potomac High School and during my time on the School Board, I have focused on creating these opportunities for the students in Mount Vernon. It is with focus in mind that I worked with the administration of WPHS to establish the Governor’s Health Sciences Academy and the relationship with Inova Health System; expanded our relationship with Fort Belvoir for work experiences on base and am working with the leadership of Northern Virginia Community College and Supervisors Dan Storck and Jeff McKay to bring an early college and workforce development center to the original Mount Vernon High School on Richmond Highway.

In parallel, I have facilitated discussions between the Foundation for Applied Technical Education leadership, the regional housing authority and local and national labor organizations to expand work experiences in the skilled trades for students in FCPS. This past summer the School Board allocated funds to establish a coordinator for “trades for tomorrow” to develop additional opportunities for students in the skilled trades area.

Conversations about CTE opportunities need to begin earlier than high school with our students. Recently, I joined Governor Northam, NOVA Community College Interim President Schiavelli, and Superintendent Brabrand when the Pathways to IT Initiative was launched. This pathways initiative begins engaging students in middle school about career opportunities in the IT and technology sector. I believe and have advocated that these discussions with students and their families need to be expanded to include discussions about opportunities in other fields. It is important to have these discussions so that these elective courses can be planned for in the student’s four-year plan.

On Sept. 20, the Governor announced the expansion of the Community College Cloud Computing Degree Programs with Amazon Web Services to include a high school component for high school STEM and early college programs such as the one being developed for the Original Mount Vernon High School.

CTE and dual enrollment courses allow students to obtain skills, industry recognized credentials and hands on experience in fields that are in demand and pay well. These opportunities include career and technical education courses in our academies, pursue professional certifications in a range of fields and obtain real work experiences with companies or in the skilled trades. Students pursue coursework in automotive, business, consumer science, health and medical sciences, nursing, and emergency medicine, technology and the skilled trades. They build houses and restore cars. By enrolling in these courses, students are able to learn from career professionals while preparing for a two or four year college or entry level employment. This year we expanded the teach for tomorrow program to all of our high schools. Graduates committing to pursuing a teaching degree receive a signing letter for future employment with FCPS.

In addition to the classroom experience, students work with community and business partners in their areas of study.vThese partners provide internships, clinical observations, job shadowing, and mentoring. Additionally, community members are able to use the services offered by our students through these programs. These services include automotive oil changes, auto detailing and repairs, dental cleanings, haircuts, color and other services, catering, dog grooming, and recharging of refrigerator/freezer compressors. The health science academies hold health fairs for families annually. I encourage community members to support these programs and services.

I encourage families to begin conversations about the opportunities available to FCPS students in the academies, career certification programs and workplace learning experiences. As your representatives, Supervisor Storck and I are committed to bringing more of these opportunities to the students of Mount Vernon. We encourage businesses to partner with FCPS in providing these experiences to our students so that they can gain the skills necessary to ensure continued economic growth and prosperity for the County and region.

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