Waterloo Community Schools promote student career preparation
Editor’s note: This school feature is part two in a series highlighting recent recipients of the Career Academy Incentive Fund. The Career Academy Incentive Fund was established by a 2019 law that extends a statewide penny sales tax for school infrastructure, called Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE), through January 2051. At least $1 million will be awarded annually to support career academy partnerships among community colleges, school districts, business and industry, Regional Planning Partnerships, Area Education Agencies and others to increase student access to college programs, state-of-the-art equipment and career paths in Iowa’s in-demand fields.
WATERLOO – Getting high school students excited for their next steps into the real world can sometimes be a challenging task. But for Waterloo Community Schools, this challenge is seen as an opportunity rather than a hindrance. The school provides a career center that offers students at Waterloo, as well as seven surrounding school districts and three nonpublic schools, opportunities to explore and prepare for career paths through hands-on experiences.
The Waterloo Career Center is growing, too. As one of three recent recipients of the Career Academy Incentive Fund, Waterloo Community Schools received a $1 million grant award to expand its career center.
“We’re definitely excited about the planned expansion,” said Jeff Frost, executive director of professional technical education at Waterloo Community Schools. “With the career center expansion, we will not only have a larger scale building, but we will also be able to increase the number of work-based learning programs that we can offer to students.”
Currently, students interested in learning more about high-demand fields can select from 18 work-based learning programs, including health care, welding, engineering technology, culinary arts and advanced manufacturing. The Career Academy Incentive Fund will allow Waterloo Community Schools to potentially add another nine to 12 career-focused programs in the future. Possible program additions will include diesel mechanics, horticulture, auto collision repair, millwright, cosmetology, entrepreneurship and agricultural science.
“We have gauged different audiences and know that the programs we’re offering and planning to add are of interest for students as well as businesses and the community,” Frost said. “We’re particularly interested in the addition of agricultural science. Along with diesel mechanics that can be applied to tractor and farming equipment maintenance, this will be huge since Iowa has such a high focus on agriculture.”
The future addition of agricultural science will also allow the Waterloo Career Center to provide programming in all six areas of career and technical education (CTE) that the state defines. CTE programs offered through the career center can help students connect to industry partners and gain valuable experience while earning high school and college credits simultaneously. Many programs also offer opportunities to earn industry-recognized credentials and certification.
One new CTE program that is affiliated with the Waterloo Career Center and open for the school’s students is IGNITE. Developed for Detroit-area high schools by the U.S. Department of Defense and three Manufacturing USA institutes, IGNITE is a cutting-edge, hands-on program that provides skill development and career exploration in advanced manufacturing. IGNITE gives students real-world scenarios in systems-thinking and team problem solving to help develop their skills.
Funded by a partnership between Hawkeye Community College and TechWorks, an innovative manufacturing leader in Waterloo, IGNITE is just taking off at Waterloo Community Schools. This nationally accredited curriculum started at Waterloo this past January and currently has seven seniors and two juniors in the cohort. Although IGNITE is only a pilot this year that offers high school credits, next year, the career center looks to evolve the program.
“There are plans to make IGNITE a pre-apprenticeship program next year,” Frost said. “Earning concurrent credits for both high school and college as well as opportunities to earn industry-recognized credentials are also potentially in the works.”
With the excitement surrounding IGNITE, more Iowa schools may adopt this program into their work-based learning programs.
“It really is a cutting-edge program, and for students – especially those who may be disconnected from traditional classroom learning – it is very engaging,” Frost said. “Students can experience the newest technology and see where the future of the industry is going. Once students get in there, the program sells itself.”
The Waterloo Career Center is committed to the Future Ready Iowa’s goal of having 70 percent of Iowans with education and training beyond high school by 2025. Counselors and staff will continue to work with students to connect them with work-based learning opportunities and prepare them for their future.