County, city school systems capture work-based learning grants

Published 3:34 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Students in county and city high schools could soon have the opportunity to gain some unique workforce experience thanks to a pair of state grants.

On Monday, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced the awarding of 29 work-based learning grants and both the Carter County Board of Education and Elizabethton City School System were listed among the recipients. Each school system received $25,000 through the grant process.

The purpose of the grants, according to TNECD, is to promote career skills and readiness among Tennessee students by developing or expanding work-based learning programs in grades K-12. Work-Based Learning is an education strategy that provides students with experiences to learn and develop career and job skills.

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“TNECD is proud to provide these Work-Based Learning Grants to help improve the career readiness of Tennessee students and develop a strong workforce of tomorrow,” TNECD Commissioner Bob Rolfe said. “Many communities and school districts across Tennessee have stepped forward with strong programs that will help students develop career skills. I’m encouraged by the continued efforts to ensure Tennessee is the most aligned state in the country when it comes to education and workforce development.”

Here at the local level, officials are excited about the opportunity the grants will provide to local students in helping to prepare them for the workforce.

Susan Robinson, Director of Economic and Community Development for Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey’s office, made the application for the grants on behalf of both school systems. Robinson said when she learned of the grant opportunity, she contacted Carter County Director of Schools Dr. Kevin Ward and Elizabethton City Schools Director Dr. Corey Gardenhour and asked for permission to seek the grant on their behalf.

The idea behind the grant proposal, Robinson said, was to create a paid internship program for high school seniors that would allow them the opportunity to gain workforce experience before graduating.

“They loved the idea,” Robinson said of Ward and Gardenhour’s reaction to the proposal.

The grant will require a small matching fund of around $1,200 each, Robinson said, and both school systems have already pledged monies to cover that match requirement.

Robinson said she applied for a $25,000 grant for each of the two school systems, with most of the money going to pay the salaries for the students during their internship.

“It will allow us to give paid internships to 90 graduating seniors over a year and a half time frame,” Robinson said.

The internships will be offered in three batches of 30 positions with 15 students coming from the county and 15 from the city. Robinson said the initial design for the program was to provide 30 this Spring term, 30 in the Fall term, and the final 30 in the Spring 2019 term. However, the school system must first receive their grant contracts and funding before the program can launch.

“If we don’t get the money in time we may have to do the first batch as summer internships,” Robinson said.

As part of the program, the students will work at internships in a variety of different county and city government positions, such as with the Carter County Mayor’s Office, the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Elizabethton Office of Planning and Development. Internship opportunities will also be available within both school systems.

Robinson said there are details that still need to be finalized with the program. Once the grant contract and funds are received, Robinson said she and the school systems will provide additional information about the internship opportunities as well as how the students can apply.