By Roxanne Pignanelli
Originally published in the Pueblo Chieftain on October 11, 2020.
As a long-time educator in Pueblo County School District 70, I have developed over the years a deep appreciation for the importance of Career and Technical Education (CTE), and for how helpful it is to have legislative champions to push this agenda.
For many years, my district has demonstrated a deep commitment to CTE. We run several successful programs that help students explore career options and get hands-on experiences in fields ranging from medical to construction to performing arts.
More recently, a four-year-old state program championed by our State Representative, Daneya Esgar, has provided additional incentives to D-70 and school districts across the state to enhance their CTE offerings.
The Career Success Development Fund was launched by the State Legislature in 2016 as a pilot program and recently extended and expanded. It pays school districts and charter schools up to $1,000 when students complete qualified industry credential programs, internships, residencies, construction pre-apprenticeship or construction apprenticeship programs or qualified Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
The Colorado Department of Education recently released year-three data on the program. Statewide, 16,000 credentials, work-based learning, and relevant courses have been completed because of this policy.
D-70 offers several CTE programs that benefit from the incentive program. One of the most durable and impactful is the School to Employment Program (S.T.E.P.), a longstanding partnership between the school district and Parkview Medical Center.
The S.T.E.P. program, founded in 2002, is a semester-long observation/internship that exposes students to careers in health care. Students are selected through a competitive application and interview process. Participating students receive high school credit and are concurrently enrolled in a Medical Terminology class at Pueblo Community College.
Practicing healthcare professionals serve as mentors to students throughout a clinical rotation of 128 observation hours. Students also have the potential to earn a certificate of proficiency from the National Consortium for Health Science Education and are guaranteed an interview for employment upon graduation at Parkview Medical Center if minimum program qualifications are met.
“Over the years, the relationship between District 70 and Parkview has blossomed into an amazing mentoring program for our students,” Parkview Principal Brian Dilka told me. “Our students get a firsthand look at what it takes to be successful in the medical industry. The program provides a level of education that is unmatched at the high school level. It has also been a great way for Parkview to identify and train a potential workforce”.
Last year, the S.T.E.P. program won The Succeeds Prize for Excellence in Innovation, a $15,000 award given by Colorado Succeeds, the statewide education advocacy group of business leaders. Winning the prestigious prize was a real point of pride for our school district.
What’s more. thanks to the Career Success Development Fund, D-70 now receives an incentive payment for every student who successfully completes the S.T.E.P. program.
The fund presents just the latest example of Rep. Esgar’s profound and abiding commitment to education, for Pueblans, of course, but also statewide. She has a grounded, practical understanding of education, because she makes herself so accessible.
Rep. Esgar understands that the Pueblo area will thrive only if we can create an environment and an economy that keeps our graduates here, or brings them back after they complete post-secondary education.
Over time, I have talked to her many times about what D-70 offers students beyond the traditional “three R’s” of schooling. She has developed a deep understanding of and appreciation for the different pathways we offer students that allow them to choose among a variety of viable options: four-year college, community college, or school-to-workforce pipeline programs like S.T.E.P.
As our regional, state, and national economies work to recover from the steep downturn, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, providing our students with compelling alternative pathways to sustainable careers becomes more important than ever.
Programs like the Career Success Development Fund and committed lawmakers like Daneya Esgar help ensure our students can not only graduate with clear pathways and opportunities to employment, but help them thrive.
Roxanne Pignanelli has been a member of the District 70 team for 17 years serving as a teacher, administrator (founding The Arts Academy at Pueblo County High) and the leader of the district’s professional union/association for seven years.