Lowell Cultivating Tech-Savvy Workforce

dt.common.streams.StreamServer
Lowell is a part of this amazing program. This is an excellent opportunity for both students and staff. Read on to see one more way that Lowell is preparing our students for both college and career!
By Sherri Buri McDonald
The Register-Guard

Oct. 2, 2017
After years of trying to boost its visibility, especially among the young workers it needs for future growth, the Eugene-Springfield tech industry is finally starting to get the attention of local high school students.

A big part of area tech firms’ recent “coming out” has been “inviting in” local students — and their teachers.

Since January, a partnership between Lane County’s 16 school districts and the local tech industry has immersed more than 100 high school students and a dozen educators in Eugene-Springfield’s growing tech sector.
The school-to-work program plans to expand this school year to involve nearly 600 students and two more industries: manufacturing and health care.
Called Elevate Lane County, the program is the first of its kind in Oregon. It has organized student tours of tech firms, job shadows on early release and no-school days, and recently celebrated the first group of seven students, 11 teachers and a school counselor who spent part of their summer getting work experience at area tech companies.
Oregon Education Innovation Officer Colt Gill, the former superintendent of the Bethel School District in west Eugene, is upbeat about Elevate Lane County.
“It gives kids exactly what they need, which is a really engaging, real-world, hands-on, relevant experience that puts them on a path to graduation and gets them excited about their path after graduation,” he said. “There’s also a parallel value to the community that we’re developing a much more prepared and tech-savvy workforce.”
In Elevate Lane County’s first school-to-work effort, it teamed up with industry group Technology Association of Oregon (TAO) to try to spark the interest of high schoolers in tech careers, expand their opportunities to learn computer programming and other skills, and to keep them engaged in school so they’ll earn diplomas and be better prepared for college or work.
Lane County’s tech industry was motivated to participate because it needs more skilled workers. Area high schools weren’t turning out scores of budding programmers and others on a tech career track because some of the schools didn’t teach computer science. That’s what prompted Elevate Lane County to add what it calls “externships,” or summer work experiences in the tech field for high school teachers.
Over the summer, 11 local high school teachers and one school counselor spent 1,921 hours, or 48 full-time weeks, at area tech firms.
This school year, 516 students will be in class with one of those educators at the following high schools: Junction City, North Eugene, South Eugene, Monroe, Lowell, Mohawk, Willamette, Thurston, McKenzie and A3, Academy of Arts & Academics, in Springfield.
“Some will have new courses, some will have new lessons, but all students will benefit in some way,” said Heidi Larwick, director of Connected Lane County.
Connected Lane County is a regional partnership focused on boosting student achievement. It includes Lane County’s 16 school districts, Lane Educational Service District, Lane Community College, University of Oregon, Technology Association of Oregon, Lane Workforce Partnership, United Way and others.
Using the framework developed for the tech industry, Elevate Lane County plans to roll out similar programs in more local industries, including manufacturing this fall and health care next year, Larwick said.
Local employers in all industries that are interested in getting involved with Elevate Lane County can get started by taking this online survey: https://goo.gl/gdWYYh.
Gill said he’s interested to see in the short term whether the program increases student job shadow and internship opportunities and helps reduce student absenteeism.
He said the program will be evaluated over the long term to see if it improves students’ high school graduation rates, college enrollment and work opportunities.
Students will be asked, “did they go on to a job in the tech industry?,” Gill said. “Did they seek a degree in computer science?”
If the outcomes are positive, the program could be shared with other parts of the state, he said.
“That’s part of my work (to) seek out unique or powerful programs throughout Oregon and help seed them in other communities in Oregon.”
Oregon faces a significant challenge in trying to improve high school graduation rates, Gill said.
Last year in Oregon, three-quarters of students earned their high school diplomas in four years, compared with 90 percent in some top-performing states. The graduation challenge is especially great for students living in poverty, students of color and students living in Oregon’s tribal communities, he said.
That’s why programs like Elevate Lane County are valuable, Gill said.
“When it’s not just the school involved but a community that’s willing to partner to serve its youth, then the levels those kids can reach are pretty unlimited because they know the community where they live is willing to invest in them,” he said.
The Oregon Department of Education provided $45,000 for Elevate Lane County’s first year.
The program’s first-year budget is $165,000, which includes staff support, technology, and expenses related to coordinating tech industry experiences for 300 students, 12 teachers and hosting a 25-person regional advisory committee, Larwick said.
Private foundations also have been an important funding source, she said. Oregon Community Foundation provided $20,000, and Ford Family Foundation provided $47,000. Connected Lane County also provided about $7,500. Connected Lane County and Technology Association of Oregon provided staff time.
Elevate Lane County is anticipating securing two grants from Meyer Memorial Trust that would support Elevate Lane County’s growth over the next three years, Larwick said.