“You wouldn’t judge a lion by how fast it can swim in the ocean, you know,” says Eli. “With traditional school, I didn’t feel like I had the chance to show how smart I was.” That’s just one student echoing what many students participating in the Fort Lupton Career Explore Program shared with Colorado Succeeds about how the program gives them hope about their plans for the future and has reinvigorated their interest in school. They’ve also developed new, encouraging bonds amongst one another.
Nikki Chima, Fort Lupton High School Language Arts Teacher and Career Explore Coordinator, explains the benefits of offering students relevant pathways. “If you have a 16 year-old only hanging around other 16 year-olds, they’re going to act like a kid. If you put them in an environment with adults, they’ll grow up.”
While the Explore program is specifically targeted to help students who are at risk of dropping out of high school, all students are learning the essential skills they will need in the future through updated CTE offerings and courses that focus on financial literacy via school-wide programming.
The Career Explore program was originally started in JeffCo Public Schools by Griff Wirth, who now travels and consults with districts across the state to recreate the program in a way that works for their community. He highlights how the program takes a lot of dedication from the adults involved to sustain, but the success stories are numerous.
As Griff, and Colorado Succeeds see it, the systematic change we need in education comes from a moral imperative to not leave kids behind, as well as an economic one. “Our economy is only built to support college graduates at about 40%,” says Wirth, which is why it is so critical to involve business leaders and learn more about their needs. “Our business partners are absolutely critical, they provide the things kids connect to.”
In Fort Lupton, the company blazing the trail is Colorado Succeeds member, Merritt Family Enterprises. Their new facility is just over a mile from the high school. Entering an established business and working on the manufacturing floor can be intimidating, but by the end of their internship, students are showing off their work with pride.
The company conducted their due diligence to research the best ways to work with the high school and obtained the proper insurance to ensure the students would be safe – from the moment they were transported to their facility to the point that they arrived at school. For their internship, they start in the office to learn about sales and move through every aspect of the business. “The program is helping these kids have more confidence, integrate into the workforce, and rise up. It is really heartwarming to see these kids evolve through the program,” says Chris Barton, Vice President of Operations, Merritt Aluminum Products Company. “One of our biggest challenges is getting quality people in here… and it’s been great. We hope we can transition these students right into our workforce.”
To learn more about work-based learning opportunities, visit CORoadmapWBL.org. If you’re interested in supporting more partnerships like the Ft. Lupton Career Explore Program, contact Danny McCormick.