HSFF: Preparing students not just for college, but for the work force after high school

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. - "The skills you receive for a high school diploma, they're not the specialized things that the best jobs in the economy require," Cumberland Valley superintendent Fred S. Withum said.

The latest generation of students entering the work force often were taught it's college or bust for their future. But with a new generation of trade workers rapidly aging, a look to the past may be a preview for what is to come.

“They come out of college with a tremendous amount of debt and find themselves underemployed, or unemployed, because they don’t match the skills that the marketplace needs,” Withum said.  "You don’t necessarily have to go and get a four year college degree to get some great jobs.

Cumberland Valley High School allows their students to chart their own course, by choosing either the college path or specializing towards jobs right out of high school. A new pilot program allows students to venture into specialties from hospitality management to information technology and more, in partnership with local industry.

“We have kids going through trade programs, come out of high school, all of their post-secondary advanced training is paid for by the industries they work with, they assume no college debt, and they are making well-above the average income three years out of high school,” Withum said.

The program runs through the school year. Students can also free up their last semester of their senior year by taking classes in the summer. That way, they can focus on apprenticeships, internships and more to get a head start.

With over 300 students attending summer classes voluntarily this past summer, the school is already seeing results.

One student, Matthew Montgomery, went through the curriculum in his junior year. He did so well, he had a job offer he was forced to decline because he had  year of school left.  But Montgomery uses it as a confidence boost for his senior year, knowing he's work force ready.

“It feels great, it feels really good,” Montgomery, now a Cumberland Valley High School senior said.

However, the school district recognizes this is simply an added choice for students. College degrees still play a predominant vital role in many, if not most, of their students' futures.

“This is about giving increasing numbers of students who want an alternative pathway to find that pathway so we are layering over new 21st century learning opportunities onto a well proven educational system, not replacing one with the other," Withum said.