This blog is part two in a three-part series in partnership with Giving Compass.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented innumerable challenges to school districts across the country. Colorado district leaders, educators, and students managed school closures, hybrid learning, mask mandates, and countless other barriers to learning. Despite these challenges, eight districts across Colorado persevered in developing locally supported career exploration and work-based learning opportunities for students through the Homegrown Talent Initiative. These districts worked around and within state and local policies to explore change and build new work-based learning programs for their students. The following districts provide a glimpse into the types of opportunities and changes districts are capable of achieving with a little support and a lot of perseverance.

Holyoke School District changed its whole approach to career exploration in the last year. After the pandemic stopped any opportunity to host in-person career fairs or job shadows, Holyoke School District explored alternative ways to provide career exploration for students. Rather than hosting a career fair as originally planned, Holyoke hosted a “course fair” where students could talk to teachers and learn about different course offerings. This fair also gave the school the opportunity to highlight new concurrent enrollment offerings, allowing students to earn college credit while still in high school.

This approach allowed Holyoke to reach all students, not just those who excel or are struggling, to better understand students’ interests and goals. 

Elizabeth School District knew its schedule was not compatible with most work-based learning opportunities – students would miss too much class time commuting to internships. To address this challenge, Elizabeth piloted two new schedule options in early 2021, with significant input and feedback from students, families, and teachers, to find a schedule that best suit external opportunities for students, such as concurrent enrollment, and internships. Elizabeth has also spent the last year creating a library of career-connected learning videos to expose students to different industries. Students led all aspects of this video production, from initial brainstorming to filming and editing.

Montezuma-Cortez School District understood the necessity of ensuring all members of its diverse community feel welcome, recognized, and valued in their school, and have worked to ensure a variety of voices have input in their work to expand work-based learning opportunities. Each HTI community designed a Graduate Profile, outlining the knowledge, skills, and qualities they will help each student build before graduating high school. These profiles were a collaborative effort developed with input from school staff, students, families, business leaders and local community members. Montezuma-Cortez has taken their Graduate Profile and translated it into Spanish, Ute, and Navajo so all community members can see themselves reflected in this key document. 

Get Involved

While HTI focuses heavily on building school capacity and expanding career-connected learning based on student interest, there are still many opportunities for local businesses and community members to engage in, and even lead, some of this work.

  • Consider asking your local school district what types of career-exploration opportunities exist for students, and if there are ways you can support those efforts. Do they host a career fair you could attend? Are they looking for guest judges for a robotics or business competition? 
  • If you’re providing financial support, could you invest in an apprenticeship for a student or purchase software licenses that would allow a school to offer a new certificate program?