Local High Schools Help Students Find Their Singular Route to Success
By Frannie Barnes, Photos by Christine Craddock
The path to success is not always linear. Some people map out their careers at a young age, while others don’t know their trajectory until college or beyond. And what about those who don’t want to go the four-year college route? Fortunately, there are alternatives to getting a bachelor’s degree, such as opting for a two-year associate’s degree, applying for an apprenticeship or certificate in a specialized trade or an internship that leads to a career and, in some cases, a combination of these options. The Prince William County School system has created an inclusive curricula that offers students education for several different careers and our local high schools, Battlefield and Patriot, have talented staff and teachers who work with students to help them decide which path is best for them.
“One of my passions,” said Alissa Bridges, Battlefield High School’s college and career counselor, “is to connect students to opportunities outside of college. We see a deficit in the trade and IT industries. I have the unique position to collaborate with teachers in our school and industry professionals in our community to support students in their post high school career plans.”
Through Battlefield’s Center for Applied Sciences, Interactive and Information Technology (CASIIT) program, students have the opportunity to take classes in IT. For many, it is a foundation to continue their education in a four-year college. But others can go directly into the field with the education they receive from Battlefield.
“Virginia is one of the leading states in developing cyber jobs, it’s one of the state’s major initiatives. Our kids could easily jump into a cyber career,” said Battlefield Principal, Ryan Fererra.
In addition to working with students, Ms. Bridges partners with companies like Lockheed Martin, High Purity Systems, Micron, and the Prince William Service Authority, to connect students with apprenticeships and internships that give them real world, on-the-job experience. “We have the opportunity to bridge the gap and bring job possibilities to our students. By doing this, we help demystify what it’s like out in the workforce,” she adds.
Principal Ferrera explained how they are reframing the conversation that education is one of the many tools needed to be successful in the work world; because that world looks different for each student based on their interests and skills. By partnering with local companies, industry professionals and educators, the school is connecting the purpose of education with the needs of the workforce. Students learn about important topics such as earning potential, credentials, understanding benefits, and more. It is important to help students understand that there are opportunities for growth within every career – merely landing the job is not the end goal.
Mr. Ferrera added, “And even if students decide to go the four-year college route, we have so many students who are now graduating with skills that not only help them get them into college, but skills that are also employable, which will help them get careers they want and jump right in.”
Through Patriot High School’s Building Trades program, students are taught all aspects of the construction industry, from surveying and inspections, to carpentry, electrical, masonry and plumbing.
Students are given the opportunity to take hands-on courses such as construction technology, where they can design, build and market a product. As they progress in the program, they have the opportunity to go to job sites and participate in work such as framing basements and hanging drywall.
“This in-depth education provides workplace readiness not only with hands-on trade work, but also important aspects such as interviews, writing a resume, and how to act on the job,” said Charles Midkiff, CTE building trades teacher. In the eight years Patriot has been open, approximately 15 students have gone into a career in the field. And the building trades program is well-known and respected within the community. Mr. Midkiff receives numerous emails each week from local companies looking for interested students.
Only 20 students are accepted to each section of the program, and the majority of the students who take Building Trades do go on to a four-year college. With complementary courses on marketing and business, many have the end-goal of owning their own construction company.
If being in the kitchen piques your student’s interest, Patriot offers a Culinary Arts program available to juniors and seniors. The two-year program has been recognized by the Culinary Institute of Arts and is routinely visited by recruiters from Johnson and Wales, who have offered students scholarships and placement in their culinary schools.
Chef Emily Stevenson has been running the program since 2011 and teaches classes in food safety and sanitation, knife skills, sauce making, regional and international foods, menu and event planning and is on the cutting edge of ServSafe certification education, teaching students about food safety and allergens in Patriot’s state-of-the-art commercial kitchen. “I feel blessed to have this opportunity to teach my students these usable life skills,” she said. And she prepares them well – much of the curriculum covers material from the first year of culinary school.
Chef Stevenson’s creativity has helped her students thrive. Her students compete at the national level and have annually won awards for their creativity and expertise. And while not all students go on to pursue careers as professional chefs, the skills learned in the program are skills for life. “I tell my kids, ‘no matter where you go or what you do, you have to eat! Why not come here and learn to do it the right way, on a budget, how to do it and how to be healthy.’”
As if learning culinary skills isn’t enough, they also use these skills to give back. Every year on September 11, the students cook and serve first responders and they regularly prepare food for Patriot teachers in “Café Synergy” on the school campus.
Principal Michael Bishop, Ed.D., is proud of Patriot’s CTE programs. “One of the goals of our school is to make sure our kids are ready for the 21st century, which is in line with our Superintendent’s mission,” Dr. Bishop said. “People think every kid needs to go to college, but you can go to a school like ours, and learn the skills to be successful in any career.”
Both Battlefield and Patriot offer college and job fairs to show students the many opportunities ahead of them. And both schools have many students who, with the help of counselors and teachers, successfully combine the two – taking their trade educations with them to further their education at college.
“When it comes to college, we want to help students understand what it is they want to do, instead of just where they want to go,” Ms. Bridges added.
In the short time that these schools have opened their doors in our community, it’s clear that they understand the rapidly changing workforce as well as the generation of students they’re teaching.
“This is a generation of problem solvers,” said Principal Ferrera. And the administrators and staff at Battlefield and Patriot have risen to the challenge of providing students many options and a solid foundation to create their own individual path to success, whatever it might look like.