Innovative High School Breaks New Ground with Career Education

Economic, political, and educational climates in the U.S. today have created increasingly high youth unemployment, poor postsecondary graduation rates, and a major skills gap for middle market jobs. These issues have led to a variety of local workforce and professional development initiatives.
In response to the skills gap and in an effort to redefine how virtual schools approach career education, K12 is working Destinations Career Academies. In addition to earning a high school diploma, graduates will have the opportunity to earn recognized industry certifications in in-demand fields and will also be prepared for the ACT National Career Readiness Certification.
Idaho College and Career Readiness Academy is blazing the path to better career preparation for virtual high schools, here is the story of one student’s’ experience.
This post originally ran on The Learning Liftoff Blog Post.

Seth Livingstone
Mya Ciccone enrolled in the Idaho College and Career Readiness Academy (IDCCRA) when she needed an alternative to her traditional brick-and-mortar school. She found the drama and persistent teasing that she endured at her previous school were getting in the way of her education.
But, in addition to the refreshing ability to focus on her education, Mya’s family discovered that this online high school is the first of its kind in Idaho to offer specialized career education. Mya has enjoyed the unique opportunity to explore careers in both healthcare and business as well as language arts.
“The emphasis on career is a big plus,” says Mya’s dad, Jason Hopkins. “We tried a different program [before K12] because we thought the [career] program might be too overwhelming. But it’s turned out to be an awesome program. I wanted Mya to have a good foundation. The personal time she’s had with teachers—that direct one-on-one access. We just love it.”
Available statewide and tuition-free, Idaho College and Career Readiness Academy provides students exposure to technical and specialty trade skills, thanks to courses built around four career paths: healthcare, business and marketing, website development, and automated manufacturing.
“We’re the first [K12] school to deploy the model and parents say they appreciate it,” says Monti Pittman, IDCCRA’s head of school. “They feel like it’s giving their students a leg up on preparing for careers after graduation.
“Students have the opportunity to work at their own pace, in their own time, and they see the pathways. When it comes to a math problem, for instance, they’re able to answer the questions ‘Why am I doing this?’ or ‘What is this going to do for me?’”
That’s important, says  Desiree Laughlin, K12’s west region vice president.
“The biggest question a lot of kids have is ‘Why do I have to know this?’ That’s true, whether it’s in writing, algebra, biology or literature. I think what’s exciting about the technical career approach is that you can bring that all together in an individualized way. It gives high school students an opportunity to get a broad education, finish with a diploma, but do it within a selected career path that will allow them to graduate from high school with post-secondary credits in a career area and with specific industry certifications.”
“Probably what’s most remarkable,” Laughlin says, “is helping people get the vision that it is possible to do high-quality career technical education online.”
Idaho College and Career Readiness Academy opened its doors in 2014, beginning with 53 underclassmen. Thanks to the popularity of the program and the demands of Idaho’s economy, K12’s Director of College and Career Programs for High School Product Management Patrick Keeney projects enrollment will be about 200 in the fall of 2016.
“Idaho is a typical example of a state where middle jobs (those not requiring a four-year college degree) are important and, at the same time, there aren’t enough employees to fill those positions,” Keeney says. “One of the most promising areas, for example, is the field of pharmacy technician. Students can earn a pharmacy technician certificate by the time they earn their diploma. Those are the type of jobs that can earn a student $36,000 to $50,000 a year, right out of high school.
“Another example is in the field of manufacturing. There are several companies in Idaho that offer high-paying manufacturing jobs that absolutely do not require a four-year degree. But they do require employees that are savvy with regard to technology and basic skills that an employee needs to have.”
As well as sampling both healthcare and business classes, Mya is looking forward to participating in the art club. It’s the combination of an online school and the innovative career education that she appreciates the most about IDCCRA. “I love all my teachers, classes, [and] schedules. It’s perfect for me.”
Seth Livingstone is a writer and associate editor for Learning Liftoff. Follow him on Twitter @SethLivingstone.
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