Wyoming's Pathway to Career Readiness

A few weeks ago, I visited schools across Wyoming. In Rock Springs, a town in the southwestern part of the state, I met Tristan, a senior in high school. Tristan wants to study medicine after high school and, unlike most students across this country, he has a comprehensive understanding of all the medical jobs that are available to him. While in high school, he had the unique opportunity to job shadow medical professionals in the local emergency room, gaining first-hand insight into all the possibilities before him - and what type of education he will need after high school to pursue a career in this field. He told me that he was going on to college, and that his experience in the job-shadowing will help him make choices about his future during and after college.

Rock Springs High School is one of many schools across Wyoming that has worked to integrate career-readiness training into its high school curriculum. As our team traveled across the state, we were struck by the solutions communities had developed to equip students with the skills they'll need for a career after graduation.

We visited places like the Carbon County Higher Education Center in Rawlins, an extension of Western Wyoming Community College, where high school students were central to the planning of every career pathway offered at the center. We toured houses that high school students had built -- from the foundation, to the lighting, to the cabinetry. These beautiful, green homes were sold for profit to benefit the construction career pathway at the center.

I visited a science classroom at the Black Butte Alternative High School where each student had the opportunity to participate in any of ten online and in-person courses that his or her teacher had designed. The students I interacted with appreciated the opportunities to learn challenging coursework at their own pace and to have access to a strong teacher, who acts more as a facilitator of learning, rather than a traditional instructor.

In the wake of a statewide economic downturn several years ago, Natrona County decided to prepare the future workforce by pulling local resources together to fund a state-of-the-art learning facility. The Pathways Innovation Center allows county students to learn technical and academic skills from full- and part-time professionals in career fields. To avoid the challenges associated with having minors participate in internships at active work sites, they brought the work-based learning experiences into an educational facility. They also built a television studio and aqua rehab facility into the center, welcoming high school students to become the resource operators and community members to be the beneficiaries.

Like much of this country, the Wyoming Department of Education has grappled with how to make sure students not only have access to high-quality educational courses, but also the resources and tools necessary to be successful, no matter where they live in this rural state. Through a combination of online and in-person coursework, the Department is working to scale similar models to the ones we visited so that all students have the chance to build a skillset they can use after high school or college graduation.

Our mission at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is to ensure that states are preparing all students for success in college, career and life. As the labor market continues to evolve, we have a responsibility to evolve how we educate and prepare students in our K-12 education system. Two years ago, CCSSO launched a Career Readiness Initiative to work with all states to improve career readiness programs and close the skills gap that currently exists in our country. Wyoming is one of the states that has committed to transforming how they provide educational opportunities to all students and prepare them for college and career. I was so impressed during our visit by the ways high schools, community colleges and local businesses have partnered to create a variety of career pathways for students.

I have seen exemplary efforts in other states as well, including Nevada, Kentucky, Louisiana and many more. I know this is just the beginning as Wyoming and other states continue to take the lead in transforming career readiness pathways to meet the needs of all kids - no matter where they live or what they plan to pursue after high school.

A special thanks to Beth Plewa and Ashley Gardiner at CCSSO for their help in authoring this column on Wyoming schools and our career readiness work.