Past graduates of Pittsfield Middle High School return once a year to offer advice to current students, even the school’s youngest.
“Fifth- and sixth-graders ask questions like, ‘How did you know what you wanted to do?’,” recalled Melissa Brown, the school district’s director of career readiness.
Sure, current students also get pointers on sports teams and dorm-room decor, but the event gets them thinking about their futures.
More people in education are pushing for students to receive earlier exposure to real-world advice and experiences, opening up pathways for students who aren’t necessarily aiming for college.
More than 16,000 openings for Granite State jobs were posted online between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, according to Burning Glass Technologies and New Hampshire Employment Security.
“How do we match kids to those available jobs?” said Carl Ladd, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association.
“I think the biggest challenge is to make sure we create a strong enough workforce to meet the demands,” he said.
Ladd’s organization, former state Board of Education chairman Fred Bramante and the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education have been meeting with the state Department of Education to make a bigger push to better prepare students for work and to supply more home-grown workers.
“The goal is to put virtually every kid in a position where he or she can be prepared for whatever their next step is, be that college or workforce,” Bramante said.
Students, for example, could learn alongside mechanics at a car dealership or in its showroom or finance department, Ladd said.
“How can we get students into a work environment in some kind of apprenticeship or some kind of extended learning experience?” Ladd said.
Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said the public thinks students are required to spend 180 days in school to earn credit for a specific subject.
“They’re required to display mastery of a subject,” he said in a recent interview. Edelblut said he sees more opportunities for students learning outside the classroom but added: “The rate of engagement is still slower than we want to see.”
Extended Learning Opportunities coordinators that some local districts already employ could manage this experiential learning.
Before the loss of a grant eliminated the position a few years ago, Pittsfield’s ELO coordinator helped students get out in the community.
Pittsfield saw one high school student earn physical education credit from equestrian work. Another got social studies credit for exploring a religious project with area clergy.
Superintendent John Freeman said the district is regrouping after getting “a glimpse of what’s possible,” he said.
Freeman said a coordinator would need to match the student with a business partner, develop a plan for the student’s work, meet with parents and identify a teacher willing to review the student’s work and competencies and verify that the student earned school credit.
“To do it right, to give academic credit for those sort of opportunities, you really have to put in the time,” Freeman said.Pittsfield is trying to forge employer ties. In the past month, a handful of students toured Globe Manufacturing, which makes firefighter protection gear. The superintendent hopes the Pittsfield manufacturer can offer students internships or apprenticeships, stimulating student interest in careers there and potentially producing future workers for Globe.
(A local Globe employee couldn’t comment, and a message passed along to company headquarters wasn’t returned.)
Edelblut said the issue isn’t a case of employers not wanting to get involved. “Employers don’t necessarily know how to speak education, and educators don’t necessarily know how to speak business,” Edelblut said. “We need to bridge that gap.”
Edelblut said the New Hampshire Career Academy is slated to open in September with open enrollment coming soon. The academy would allow seniors to complete their high school requirements while also earning college credits for a potential certificate.
The academy, which will receive $7,300 per student per year in state funding, will offer students a “super senior” year for them to earn an associate’s degree.
The academy — a public charter school embedded into the campuses and operated by the Community College System of New Hampshire — also requires a memorandum of understanding with participating high schools to allow students to participate in activities such as athletic teams, clubs and school proms.
Ladd said the new academy is “still a pathway through college… and college isn’t necessarily for every kid.”
High school students in some areas already can study at a career and technical education (CTE) center in programs such as automotive repair.
And students also can earn college credit through the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, which is funded through New Hampshire’s )education trust fund.
“Can we depress that accelerator? I think that answer is yes,” Bramante said.