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Tuesday, Dec 9, 2014

Grant fuels initiative connecting youth with school and jobs

High School students at the Columbia-Greene Partnership Academy (“The Bridge”) in Hudson will be the first outside Canaan to benefit from Berkshire’s innovative Workforce Development Program, which matches at-risk students with paid jobs. After regular school hours, students will work in jobs that teach them vital life, professional, and social skills. image

Until now, the highly successful program has been limited to students at Berkshire Union Free School District in Canaan, which has seen a 100 percent graduation rate since 2009 soon after the Workforce Development Program launched with a combination of the World of Work classroom curriculum and on-the-job learning. With a $25,000 grant from the Workforce Investment Board (WIB) of Columbia + Greene Counties, announced earlier this month, workforce development will be part of The Bridge Program and will work directly with area businesses.

Berkshire provides all academic services at The Bridge. Working with the WIB, school superintendent Bruce Potter held a special Open House at The Bridge earlier this month. The WIB announced the $25,000 grant to a group that included business leaders from the area, members of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, area education officials, and political representatives, including Rep. Chris Gibson, 19th District of New York.

With this important funding, Berkshire will begin working with local employers to provide part-time internships in the Hudson and Catskill areas. “Initially our goal is to place approximately 15 Juniors and Seniors currently enrolled in The Bridge into paying jobs in neighboring communities,” said Bruce Potter, “and we are looking forward to getting started.”

imagePotter explained that The Bridge Program Coordinator and Workforce Development Program Mentors will reach out to families of selected students to explain the program and enlist their support. Berkshire Job Coaches and Mentors will work directly with the employed students, their families and employers, to ensure success.

The Workforce Development Program (WFD) combines 20 weeks of classroom instruction with approximately 220 hours of compensated work experience (eight hours per week for approximately 27 weeks). “The program gives purpose to school, ensuring high rates of high school completion and preparation for life,” said Potter. “Research has clearly shown that students who connect what they learn in school to real work experience are much less likely to drop out of high school,” he added, explaining that through this program students develop enduring skills, behaviors and attitudes that engender self-sufficiency and positive contributions to society. image

Before actually beginning WFD, however, students are first assessed to identify academic and employment skills and needs as well as individual challenges they may face. “Our goal is to ensure that the program meets the needs of individual students so they are successful,” said Potter. “An Individual Service Strategy (ISS) for each student will detail the goals for that student in the Bridge WFD and will identify educational, employment, and support services needed to help the students achieve their goals,” he explained.

During the school day, students learn skills considered essential to workforce readiness in the “World of Work” class. These skills include: critical thinking and problem solving; oral and written communication; teamwork and collaboration; diversity; information technology application; leadership; creativity and innovation; lifelong learning and self-direction; professionalism and work ethic; and social responsibility. Students learn how best to explore careers and job-seeking skills needed in today’s job market. They earn classroom credit and, upon successful completion, the privilege and opportunity to work in a paid job. In addition, the students earn classroom credit and work hours toward the New York State Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) certification. In order to earn this important credential, students must complete a minimum of 216 hours of classroom and work-based learning. At least 54 of those hours must be work-based. The CDOS recognizes students for their preparation and readiness for post-secondary school employment. The 2013-14 school year was the inaugural year for the CDOS through the NYS Education Department and 2013-14 graduates from BUFSD were among the first in the State to earn the CDOS, certifying them as “career and college” ready. This diploma and the portfolio built at BUFSD, Berkshire, and the WFD Program are valuable credentials in the job market today.

The internship through the Berkshire Workforce Development Program will be supervised by staff who have dual skill sets in the specific trade involved, and as a teacher/mentor with this challenging, high-need population. The program follows curricula to reinforce the skills learned during the school day and monitors the performance and progress of each student employee. “We want them to succeed,” said Potter, “while at school and throughout their lives.”

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