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Delaware’s Pathways Program

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Pathways really are for everyone – college-bound or not.

When some parents of tweens and teens first hear about the Pathways career program, they might think it’s not something meant for their child, whom, after all, they expect to head to college after high school.

That’s a mistaken assumption, says Paul Herdman, president and CEO of Rodel, the Delaware-based education-centric nonprofit.

“Pathways are for every kid,” he says. “It’s really about helping people make good choices.”

And that helps explain why Pathways have become a mainstay at Delaware’s public high schools, with participation soaring from 27 students in 2015 to nearly 26,400, or 59.8% of total enrollment, in the just-completed school year.

Pathways programs are now operating in all but three of those high schools, and continued growth should increase participation to between 70 and 80% of high school students in a few years, says Luke Rhine, former associate secretary of the state Department of Education’s workforce support team and the primary architect of the state’s Pathways initiative. In the fall, the state will start introducing Pathways topics into middle schools, Rhine says.

Pathways have been developed in 12 broad areas, like agriculture, health sciences, manufacturing and STEM subjects. Some of those areas have subcategories; agriculture, for example, includes agricultural structures and engineering, animal science and management, and environmental and natural resource science. Not every Pathway is offered in every school.

In comprehensive high schools, the Pathways curriculum is usually a three-year sequence of one class per semester, starting with the basics in sophomore year and capped with a work-study opportunity in senior year. It’s integrated into the regular curriculum, so students also have access to the full range of academic offerings, including electives, honors and Advanced Placement classes. Within each sequence, students can earn both a professional certification and college credit through dual- enrollment classes. Students can customize their class selections, Rhine says, depending on whether their post- high school plan is to get a job or go to a two-year or four-year college.

Vocational-technical high schools also offer Pathways; the difference is that Pathways programs at the vo-techs take up about half of a student’s instructional time and there’s a limited menu of state-required courses in science, math, social studies and language arts.

While the Pathways concept might seem new to some parents, it’s one that makes sense once they understand it.

“It’s about maximizing potential,” Rhine says. “We don’t want a young person to transition beyond high school without a strong sense of self and what they want to become.”

Herdman adds: “Parents want their children to launch successfully,” to
find a fulfilling career that generates a family-sustaining wage without making major mistakes along the way.

College is expensive, Herdman says, and dropping out or needing an extra year because of a change in majors can have serious economic consequences.

For students, taking classes in a subject relevant to their future, coupled with a paying job that complements those classes, can make senior year less of a grind.

Employers who provide these job opportunities see the benefit as well, Rhine and Herdman say, because they’re getting an early look at their future talent pool while helping kids learn collaboration and communication skills that they will need in any job when they’re ready to work full-time.

Pathways offer several other benefits too.

Herdman points to changes in the workforce, most notably the growth of well-paying “middle skill” jobs, like IT coders or health care technicians, that require some postsecondary education but not a four-year degree. Pathways can give students exposure to these lines of work, helping them assess how soon after high school they will enter the workforce or how many years they should invest in a college education. “We’re not locking kids into a chosen Pathway at age 14,” he says, “and it’s also good if they realize while in high school that a certain Pathway is not for them.”

Age 14, of course, is when most youths are starting high school, but the Pathways architects are preparing to expose even younger students to the program.

This fall, Rhine says, the state will begin testing a pilot Pathways program in six middle schools. Elements that work well would then be gradually implemented statewide, starting in the fall of 2023, he says.

“Not every student who enters high school is ready for it, so there’s an uneven playing field,” Rhine says. “If a student doesn’t have a good sense of self, doesn’t know what he wants to do, he’s unable to maximize potential.”

The Pathways model for middle school will try to achieve several objectives. Using a combination of classroom programming, coaching and counseling, schools would help students find their own identity and develop a better idea of what they would like to become, Rhine says.

Middle school is not too soon for kids to start thinking about their futures, at least in a general way, Rhine and Herdman say.

“We want to make clear what it takes to get from Point A to Point B,” Herdman says. “If we can give kids a better idea of what it takes to be what they want to be, they will make better choices about what classes they should take, first in high school and then in college.”

As Pathways continues to grow, the program still remains a work in progress. One of the big challenges is finding work opportunities for high school seniors.

Paul Herdman
President and CEO of Rodel

In some cases, the issue is transportation — the difficulty in getting from school to a job site. Schools have found workarounds for some situations, like setting up childcare programs on campus for their early childhood teaching academies or using acreage behind the school for farms for agriculture students.

In some fields — banking, technology and construction, for example — restrictions related to age, certifications or insurance liability can limit access to employment. Also, while many employers are accustomed to working with college-age interns, there’s a big difference in putting someone three or four years younger on the payroll, even for part-time work.

To solve those issues, “we’re seeing a lot of innovation,” Rhine says. “We’re working more with nonprofits, and with industry councils.”

Even with glitches to be resolved, there’s plenty to like about Pathways — for parents, for students and for employers.

“It just makes sense,” Herdman says.

Pathways: A Closer Look

Delaware students have access to Pathways in a dozen career clusters. You’ll find a list of all Pathways (and the primary schools, universities/colleges and training providers that offer each of them) at www.delawarepathways.org/ pathways-programs.

Here’s a more in-depth look at just a few of the programs being offered:

Biomedical Science
Students engage in open-ended problem solving and study concepts of human medicine, physiology, genetics, microbiology and public health.

Career options include:

  • Biomedical engineer – average salary of $92,970 Life, physical and social science technician – average salary of $51,160
  • Phlebotomist – average salary of $31,800

Manufacturing Engineering Technology
Students learn and apply the engineering design process, use industry-standard technology and software, and apply STEM principles to hands-on projects.

Career options include:

  • Mechanical engineering technician – average salary
    of $67,080
  • Mechanical drafter – average salary of $59,240 Maintenance and repair worker – average salary of $41,900

NAF Academy of Finance
Students engage with the world of finance by focusing on banking and credit, financial planning, accounting and insurance. This Pathway includes a 120-hour paid summer internship.

Career options include:

  • Financial analyst – average salary of $86,400
  • Tax preparer – average salary of $42,600
  • Loan interviewer and clerk – average salary of $38,130

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