Career and Technical Education for Youth at Park & Rec Agencies

August 1, 2017, Department, by Kate Sims

2017 August Advocacy Career and Technology Education for Youth at Park and Rec Agencies 410

Once known as vocational education, career and technical education (CTE) is the 21st-century version of preparing our youth for today’s workforce and ensuring they have the skills necessary to become gainfully and meaningfully employed. Providers of out-of-school time (OST) programs, whether over the summer months or after school during the school year, have the opportunity to be at the forefront of this work, now perhaps more than ever.

OST programs are ideal places for CTE because they can be flexible in the type of learning environment they create for students. When provided with the space to explore interests and improve competencies, such as team work, communication and problem-solving, student employability and life skills can be vastly improved. In addition, through more hands-on activities, mentorships and internships, students in CTE programs have access to opportunities that will assist them in selecting a career path and setting goals for their future.

Career Development Through Community Service

The department of community services, Live Healthy Gwinnett in Lawrenceville, Georgia, hosts undergraduate and graduate student interns, primarily those obtaining degrees in the public health field, to develop, implement and evaluate the OST activities offered by its summer camps and contracted camps against the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards. In addition to its in-house orientation, it uses community partners to lead additional trainings for the interns, including the group Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life, which conducts a full-day training to teach the interns the importance of wellness guidelines, vending policies, healthy habits and about ongoing resources they can tap into throughout the semester. Since 2014, Lindsey Jorstad, outreach manager for Live Healthy Gwinnett, has supervised 14 interns from eight different colleges and universities. By the end of July 2017, combined service hours for all 14 students had reached 3,700 hours.

“There is a big difference between what you are taught in a classroom and what you find through working in the field,” says Kamila Beer, a graduate of Georgia Southern University with a bachelor’s of science in public health. “Being able to actually put the knowledge I acquired in school into action allowed me to improve my writing, planning and, most importantly, my public speaking skills. Interning with Live Healthy Gwinnett has given me the upper hand for the future and prepared me to become more confident and successful.”

Building Technical Skills Through Hands-On Learning

Rec2Tech Pittsburgh was launched in September 2016 to demonstrate how municipal assets can be leveraged to address the digital divide. During a one-week demonstration, Rec2Tech Pittsburgh transformed five city-owned recreation centers into technology-enhanced learning centers, where youth learned to use technology to express their creativity, solve real-world problems and build job-ready skills. Examples of activities included youth combining art and drone photography to document their community, using engineering to create a self-watering greenhouse out of upcycled materials and designing characters, building levels and making their own video game controllers.

“Rec2Tech demonstrated how we can use existing city resources to increase access to technology and provide young people with the 21st-century learning opportunities they will need to succeed in the innovation economy,” says Pittsburgh Mayor, William Peduto.

Congressional Action Around CTE and Workforce Development

A series of congressional actions around CTE and workforce development in recent years has created a significant new opportunity for providers, such as local park and rec agencies, to tap into the federal funding and resources available for CTE programs nationwide.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), formerly known as No Child Left Behind, was signed into law by former President Obama in December 2015 and will go into effect this fall. Included in the new law is updated language that allows funding from the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) program to be used specifically for workforce development and CTE. (To learn more about 21st CCLC, read June’s Parks & Recreation magazine article “Federal Budget Cuts Threaten Educational Funding.”

As part of President Trump’s “Workforce Development Week” in June 2017, an initiative to highlight job training programs and apprenticeships, the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development hosted a hearing titled, “Helping Americans Get Back to Work: Implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).” A portion of this hearing was dedicated to the role afterschool programs can play in preparing students for future employment.

Finally, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce introduced the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act in June 2016 and then again this past spring. The bill (now numbered H.R.2353) passed the full House and was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee for consideration in late June 2017. Specific provisions of the bill that would benefit local park and rec agencies include:

  • Establishment of an “Innovation Grant Program” that would reserve 25 percent of an initial $7.5 million allocation for specific programs, including partnerships with nonprofits and local municipalities.
  • Allowance for community-based partners, defined as a “local public organization,” to become eligible entities to receive funding directly to support CTE programs locally.
  • Prioritization of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning programs for underrepresented students, especially those encouraging career pathways for non-traditional careers, such as girls in computer science or coding camps for Latino or African-American students.
  • Allowance for career development activities to start as early as fifth grade (previous limit was seventh grade).

Park and rec agencies are incredibly well-positioned to offer CTE programs or incorporate CTE activities into current programming. Your agency may already be working in partnership with your local school district or higher education institutions to offer CTE, but now is the time for park and rec agencies to help lead the work in this area and bring a greater emphasis on CTE into the OST space.

We need your help to demonstrate to Congress how park and rec agencies are offering CTE activities locally and how federal funding and resources can be used to support these efforts. If your agency is currently offering a CTE program or you are interested in learning more, please contact me.

Kate Sims is NRPA’s Government Affairs Manager.