Warren Tech: Reimagining the High School Experience through Career-Connected Learning

I believe supporting student agency is about helping students find their passions and turning what was thought of as challenges into assets. It is about teaching how accessing resources is a strength not a weakness. It is about quietly reinforcing that voice in the back of their minds, ‘you got this.’

Fran Johnson, Warren Tech Learning Specialist

This quote gets to the core of what many of us involved in education want for all students to experience: an environment that sparks curiosity, allows them to explore their passions, and lays the groundwork for their success. Warren Tech is a Career and Technical Education (CTE) center with three campuses serving Jeffco Public Schools that focuses on postsecondary workforce readiness for nearly 1,500 juniors and seniors. Their innovative approach to education makes them an exemplar of what’s possible with investment in career-connected learning. Students are engaged with their studies and develop the confidence, skills, and experience required to succeed in high-demand careers, and, in life.

Student mental health and disengagement has been identified as a top concern by Colorado superintendents during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Warren Tech’s agile approach to education allowed for learning and connection that could happen everywhere. To accommodate a variety of learning needs this school year, Warren Tech provided a hybrid instructional model so students could participate both in-person and at home. For students who needed additional support and resources on-site, access to instructors and equipment was provided on Fridays to keep them on track.

A Warren Tech student works on a Forensic Science project.

To meet technology needs, students were able to pick up lab equipment, take home computers, borrow tools, and more, to expand the classroom into their home. And courses were adapted for the hybrid environment – students cooked for their families as part of their Culinary Arts program, worked out with them for Sports Medicine, built their own bikes for Power Equipment and Motorcycle Technology, and made their own class rings in Precision Machining, among other projects.

For Warren Tech, this was certainly a challenging year, but there was also opportunity. Engaging with students who are digital natives required instructors to think differently about how to bring relevance to their teaching in remote learning environments. By remaining agile and engaging in careful analysis of the true essentials of program content, they were able to pivot to ensure a high quality, meaningful learning experience for students.

Warren Tech students practice their skills in a Medical Assistant course.

By allowing for student choice in what and how they learn and exposing them to a variety of experiences, Warren Tech sees students’ motivation soar. Students can choose from 37 innovative programs spanning Business, Marketing & Public Administration, Health Science, Criminal Justice & Public Safety, Hospitality, Human Services & Education, Skilled Trades & Technical Services, and STEM, Arts, Design & Information Technology. Each one provides students with a close look at what it’s like to work in that industry and develops the real-world skills they need to pursue that career path.

Engagement in these programs is made possible by Warren Tech’s unique schedule flexibility. Juniors and seniors attend Warren Tech’s campuses for half of the school day and learn at their home high school for the other half. They are given the choice to attend a morning or afternoon session each day for three hours a day, totaling 15 hours a week. This amount of time and flexibility allows students to not only meet high school graduation requirements, but also obtain valuable college credit and industry certifications and take part in other forms of experiential learning.

A Warren Tech student works on bike parts in Motorcycle Technology.

Warren Tech instructs students on state-of-the-art, industry-standard equipment to work on all-class and independent projects to prepare students for their future careers. Additionally, work-based learning experiences are a priority and students engage with industry partners like NASA, Lockheed Martin, and St. Anthony Hospital, motivating students to see the relevancy of their skills acquisition in real-time. 

Last year I worked with a student in Graphic Design who was very shy. The first few months of class he stood in the back away from the other students during lessons and had difficulty engaging in conversations with his peers and instructors. His instructors were persistent and continued to work with him on communication skills and increasing his comfort level of working in groups and talking in front of the class. By the spring, his snowboard design was chosen by Never Summer as one of the top 10 designs. He presented his board and the details of his design to Never Summer and did an amazing job! This was a real moment of accomplishment and success for him. He is getting ready to graduate high school and will continue to study design at Red Rocks Community College.

Sara Washington, Warren Tech Learning Specialist

At Warren Tech, high school juniors and seniors learn in a culture where traditional divisions between academic and technical instruction, and between high school, college, and the workplace are eliminated. Students work side-by-side with professionals in their fields, drawing on the resources of experienced instructors and community partners. Their strong professional partnerships, within the Jefferson County community and beyond, connect their students to authentic projects and problems.

While meeting academic credit requirements for 11th and 12th grade math, science, English, and AP coursework, Warren Tech’s programs embed concurrent and dual enrollment opportunities, resulting in students earning around 13,000 college credits each year – more than any other school in Jeffco Public Schools. Offering opportunities to engage in college-level coursework gives students a leg up, saving them time and money in pursuing higher education.

Close partnership with industry allows for their educational programming to reflect current career trends, and they offer a variety of certifications at state, national, and international levels that support students in gaining the qualifications they need for available jobs. As a result of their industry-aligned coursework, certifications, and internship opportunities, many of their students find employment during high school, or upon graduation, in their fields of study.

Historically, Jeffco Public Schools has been a district that served an affluent, suburban population. However, rapid population growth in Colorado has resulted in a more diverse student body, and Warren Tech sees its student-centered model as critical to ensuring all students – regardless of background or circumstances – have access to an education that ensures they thrive. Through project-based and work-based learning, Warren Tech students are able to explore and develop their individual interests, build deep relationships with their instructors and industry partners, and more fully demonstrate what skills and competencies they’ve learned beyond what might be tested in traditional assessments.

Going to Warren Tech helped show me experiences that I normally wouldn’t have gotten through a regular generic experience. It helped me tailor what I wanted. I was given a lot of real world skills that give me confidence in myself.

Kori Straub, Warren Tech Alumni

In the 2021 legislative session, we have the opportunity to expand the rich career-connected learning taking place at schools like Warren Tech to high schoolers across the state of Colorado. Colorado Succeeds is supporting SB21-106, Successful High School Transitions, sponsored by Senator James Coleman (D), Senator Kevin Priola (R), Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D), and Rep. Mark Baisley (R) that would provide more districts with seat time flexibility, allowing career-connected learning to flourish and bringing greater relevance to student learning.

Learn more about Warren Tech and their innovative approach to education at warrentech.org.

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Colorado Succeeds