Center to give students an edge in college, workplace

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Column by Nannette Johnston, HCS superintendent


Hardin County Schools is on the steps of history.

At the announcement we made about our early college and career center two weeks ago, Kentucky’s Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson called our plan the “most dynamic educational partnership in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”  

There are a lot of questions about the center and how it will benefit students and our community. I’ve listed some of the frequently asked questions and answers. Hopefully, these will help you better understand this amazing plan to help students become even more successful.

Q: Why does Hardin County Schools need a career center for its students?

A: The face of the American worker has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. Kentucky employers are telling educators that the graduates they receive in the workplace must be able to compete in the ever-changing global economy. We communicate with the other side of the world several times a day, businesses in Hardin County sell their wares around the world and computers and robots do the work that people sweated profusely to complete over a generation ago. The career center and career pathways at our high schools will bring emphasis to real life connections and relevance to learning. It will create additional options that will tap into the interests of our students and needs of the community. It also will create a capacity for individual growth, create confidence and specialized skills and instill a work ethic that is beyond reproach. The ultimate goal is to send our students into the world with advantages in college and career interests.

Q: Traditionally, vocational schools have catered to students not interested in pursuing college. How will the career center differ from the traditional vocational school?  

A: Today’s workforce demands specialized skills. All graduates must be trained to meet this need. The Early College and Career Center — and all 3 high schools in our district — will focus on career pathways and rigorous coursework that emphasize critical thinking, problem solving, communication and exceptional teamwork. The curriculum will engage students and promote a higher level of thinking. The center will be designed to blend the lines between high school and the future. The center also will serve as an “early college” facility. Students can come to the center and work with faculty from Elizabethtown Community and Technical College and Western Kentucky University in dual-credit classes, classes that earn credit for both high school and college. Students will walk out of the center on graduation day ready to enter the workforce with certifications needed for jobs with higher pay, or they’ll be ready to enter college or technical college with an advantage over their peers.  

Q: What programs are being considered for the career center?

Hardin County Schools is currently considering capstone (project-based) courses in six areas: health science; pre-engineering; welding and industrial maintenance; hospitality management and culinary arts; automotive technology; and information technology and media arts/graphic design. There also will be opportunities for early college/video-linked classrooms with WKU at the career center. Career pathways are open to all our high schools students. Pre-requisite courses in each career pathway would be taken at the high school during ninth and 10th grade. Students then would attend the center for half- or full-day programs during the 11th and 12th grade. Additional pathways at each high school would include business, agriculture, performing arts, JROTC and human services, with others possibly being added.  Increased dual-credit opportunities and capstone courses also would be the focus at each high school.

Q: How is Hardin County Schools preparing for the career center?

A: Data tells us our students are becoming more college and career ready each day. However, we look at more than just numbers in measuring student success. We must provide our students with experiences that will lead them to great opportunities in the future. We can do this by expanding our partnership with ECTC and providing unique early college opportunities.

To ensure our students are able to compete in our world’s marketplace, we begin helping them plan and train for their futures in middle school. The early emphasis on exploring career options included the following steps this school year.

Dale Brown, Director of College and School Relations at WKU, visited with all of our eighth-graders in November. He shared with them the expectations they will have in college and how they can start today by fine tuning their study habits and taking challenging coursework.  

In December, our eighth-grade students completed career surveys.

Brown met with our eighth-grade parents to share student survey results from their WKU session in November and career survey completed in December.

Eighth- and ninth-grade students participated in our first career exploration fairs. Eighth-grade students were transported to their feeder high schools for this event, and joined ninth-graders to attend sessions presented by community partners from various career fields. The careers showcased were several of the options our students will have available for training and certification at the career center and high schools. Following the Career Pathways Exploration Fair, students completed an online survey that will help us identify the level of career interest in the various areas.

In January, we met with parents of our 10th-grade students to share results of their PLAN test and discuss career and post-secondary planning information. Students and their parents then proceeded to a community career fair, PLANNING Your Future. They were introduced to the numerous college credit options and the increased opportunity for career preparation.

During March, we will ask our staff at all grade levels to talk with our students about the connections between work ethics and what they can do in school to practice the soft skills that will be key to their success in life.  

Q: Will there be other opportunities for the community to take advantage of the center?

A: Yes. We are excited that our post-secondary education partner can share the center when school is not in session for Hardin County Schools students. WKU will be able to take advantage of the classroom space and technology for evening, weekend and summer classes. There also will be countless dual-credit opportunities through direct instruction and video- linked classrooms. We envision that this will open the door to additional bachelor degree opportunities without having to leave the Elizabethtown area.

Q: How will this center help the community?

A: We see this as an asset to the community in multiple ways. Not only will this close the opportunity gap for high school students in our community, this will be designed to meet the immediate needs of the business and industries in our community. The direct input we will receive from our community advisory council will guide the career focus provided in the center. We also see this as a drawing card for additional business and industries to locate in the Hardin County community. And finally, we believe this center and the post-secondary opportunities that it will provide will offer the option for our next generation to stay in the area where their professional career aspirations can be met.

We are so excited about the future for our students and our community.

Nannette Johnston is superintendent for Hardin County Schools.