Career academy growth foreseen

The Millenial Generation, those ages 8 to 27, are special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured and achieving, according to researchers.

To reach out to these students and make education more relevant to them, educators are trying to redesign high schools into smaller learning communities. Stanislaus County leaders unveiled a plan Thursday to bring more career academies to the county's high schools through a partnership with the Ford Motor Co. Fund.

Not only will the plan increase student engagement, leaders predicted, it also will increase the number of people graduating and attending college.

Though the county already has academies, including biotechnology at Enochs High School in Modesto and manufacturing at Ceres High School, educators want to expand those offerings to most or all high schools.

"An academy is usually the passion of one teacher, but this will set up a master plan for the whole county," said Jay Simmonds, assistant superintendent of student support services at Ceres schools.

Stanislaus County is the 14th community in the nation the Ford fund has designated a Next Generation Learning Community, and the fourth in California, including Sacramento City Schools and the Kern High School District in Bakersfield.

"We're focusing a lot of our efforts in California for career academies," said Cheryl Carrier, program director at the Ford fund. "We want students to learn academics through the context of a career."

Career academies divide students into clusters much smaller than 2,000- or 3,000-student high schools, allowing them to connect more with teachers and other students. And they'll be working on projects with community members and businesses, Carrier said. Small learning communities match Millenial Generation students' outlooks and expectations because they tend to perform more volunteer projects and as teams, said Rick Delano, a member of the Ford fund program advisory council and keynote speaker at the Modesto Sunrise Rotary meeting where the partnership was announced.

Ford will work with the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance, the Stanislaus County Office of Education and Stanislaus Partners in Education.

Leaders are focused on seven career clusters to meet the county's work-force demands: alternative energy, biotechnology, allied health care, light assembly manufacturing, supply chain management, travel and tourism, and entrepreneurship.

By making learning more meaningful to students, educators hope fewer will drop out of high school. Those students lose about $10,000 a year in earnings compared with those who graduate high school, said Keith Griffith, senior education manager at Workforce Alliance.

Over the past decade, 13,691 Stanislaus County students have dropped out of high school. That amounts to a loss of $136.9 million in potential income each year, Griffith said. The more people earn, the more they spend and pay in taxes, affecting the quality of life of all county residents.

Though the Ford partnership does not come with financial backing, county leaders will have access to the foundation's award-winning curriculum, training and a network of experts, some of whom will make trips to Stanislaus County to help at no cost. County business leaders have jumped on board to assist high schools.

California's budget cuts hamper the effort, but leaders said there's no time like the present.

"To help these schools, it's going to take the private sector stepping up to the plate and helping out," Griffith said.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at or 578-2339.