The program groups students together to form a mock startup company, Crockett High School Principal Craig Shapiro said. Students develop one idea and make a business out of it, pitching to investors and working at tables instead of desks to encourage teamwork.
“This has bigger implications than just having kids open up some businesses,” Shapiro said. “This is the way we should be teaching and preparing kids for the 21st century.”
Classrooms in the early 1900s prepared students for factory work, and the classrooms back then looked similar to factories, Shapiro said. In the present day, modern workplaces keep changing, but the learning environments have stayed the same, he said.
“I think that’s why students are finding a disconnect between what they’re doing in schools and knowing that they may not be preparing for what’s ahead of them,” Shapiro said.
A number of programs at Austin ISD schools in Southwest Austin, including the Crockett entrepreneurship program, are preparing high school students to think about their careers now by merging school work with business work.
Earning college credit early
Kathy Ryan, AISD associate superintendent for high schools, oversees 17 AISD high schools. She said 650 high school students per semester are earning college credit, excluding the ones attending Lyndon B. Johnson Early College High School and John H. Reagan Early College High School.
Ryan said the number of college credit earners has increased every year, and she expects the trend to continue.
“There are two reasons why—the first being students and families are seeing the benefit, students are becoming successful and more want to [earn college credit],” Ryan said. “The other component is the university and postsecondary institutions themselves see that as a way that students are entering into their universities and colleges.”
Austin Community College and AISD’s Early College Start, or dual-enrollment program, lets students earn college credit while they are still in high school, ACC history professor Terry Thomas said.
Early College Start is offered at Akins High School, Bowie and Crockett, Ryan said. She added that high school graduates who have college credit are more likely to enroll in higher education.
At ACC Pinnacle, a “boot camp” is offered for early college high school students, which helps them get comfortable with the campus, Thomas said.
In May the ACC district celebrated its first students who graduated high school and received their associate degree at the same time, said Wade Bradfute, ACC Pinnacle dean of student services. The nine students were the first AISD and ACC early college high school students.
AISD has also partnered with the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce to get a better feel for the local job market, Ryan said. After consulting with the chamber, the district looks at its program offerings to see if it is preparing students for a combination of what they are interested in and what they can feasibly do to make a living.
Austin is home to numerous tech companies, including Freescale Semiconductor Inc. in Southwest Austin.
Between June 14 and July 13, there were 44,000 job openings in the Austin, Round Rock and San Marcos metropolitan statistical area, according to chamber data. Of those job openings, 19 percent were information technology-related.
And also within the 44,000 job openings, software development and knowledge of Java were two of the top 20 skills in demand, according to chamber data.
Private companies that are interested in relocating or expanding to Austin ask about the availability of potential employees with degrees, said Drew Scheberle, chamber senior vice president of education.
“Austin is one of the top six markets in the country for degreed talent, so it’s a major [part of] Austin’s economy that you can hire relatively easily for your company’s growth,” Scheberle said.
On July 29 a group of AISD teachers went to Bowie High School to learn how to teach computer science to students. The training session was part of AISD’s new Computer Science Professional Development Pipeline program.
The program is an effort to extend computer science education districtwide, said Sarah Ramirez, AISD administrative supervisor of mathematics. High school teachers who teach students coding and other computer science skills are incentivized with
“We know from an education standpoint that … we don’t have a big pool of [computer science-certified] teachers to choose from,” Ramirez said. “So it’s great for teachers who are interested to use the scholarship money to continue their own education so that they can be certified in computer science and then hopefully teach it.”
Staying on track
In summer 2016, students at Crockett, Travis and Lanier high schools who are at risk of not graduating will have an opportunity to get an internship through local nonprofit Austin Interfaith’s High School Youth Leadership Development Program.
Austin Interfaith Leader Ofelia Zapata said the organization started a gang-prevention program 20 years ago that helped 14- and 15-year-old students by giving them jobs. The High School Youth Leadership Development Program is an expansion of the jobs program, Zapata said, and focuses on high schools struggling with high dropout rates or high numbers of at-risk students.
“This is for students to begin connecting their school to work,” Zapata said.
For example, if a student comes to work late two times, he or she will not be allowed to continue the training, Zapata said.
The program also opens up students’ imagination about the potential they have, Zapata said.
What parents think
The best way to learn is through authentic experiences and real-world problems, said Kris Waugh, a parent of a sophomore at Crockett High School.
Waugh’s son will be participating in Crockett’s entrepreneurship program, which can help students find their passion in life, she said.
“You can’t stop them after they figure out what they want,” Waugh said. “That’s why the earlier [students can choose a career path], the better.”
Another Crockett parent, Lori Leija, has a daughter starting her junior year. Her daughter takes Advanced Placement classes.
“As a parent I don’t want her [going] into huge debt,” Leija said. “So my advice to her is, start local, ACC, collect credits and then move to another college. By then she’ll know what she wants to be.”