As educators and business professionals across Northwest Indiana continue to work to improve education, the K-12 and Higher Education Teams of READY NWI have explored grant opportunities and identified ways K-12 and higher education can work more effectively together.
Those two teams are chaired by Peggy Buffington, superintendent of Hobart Schools, and Paul McGuinness, vice chancellor for enrollment and student services, Purdue North Central.
Roy Vanderford, director of strategic solutions at the Center of Workforce Innovations in Valparaiso, said READY NWI continues to be a focal point for educators and employers in the region to align the supply and demand for the post-high school credentials needed for economic growth in the region.
A focus on College and Careers is an integral part of the high school curriculum in the Merrillville Community School Corp., said Superintendent Mark Sperling.
"When we received the Small Learning Community Grant in 2008, it allowed us to use increased resources on the development of various career and college opportunities for our students," he said.
Merrillville schools, like other districts in the area, also provides the Work Keys assessment for students. The test shows student skills' in a variety of different areas in preparation for college or careers. In 2013, Sperling said 486 students took the assessment. Of that number, 134 students earned a bronze certificate, 227 earned silver and 41 earned gold.
"We have heavily been working with READY NWI on grants that provide professional development to teachers which will translate into new skills for students looking to go into a variety of careers, including colleges and universities," Sperling said. "Our college rate is approximately 75 percent with the remaining 25 percent going to trade schools, armed services and job paths provided by various trade unions in Northwest Indiana."
Hundreds of students are enrolled in local career centers in Porter County, Gary and Hammond, getting training that is putting them into the workforce after high school graduation.
Mike Zimmerman, principal at the Hammond Area Career Center, said about half of his students attend college after graduation and the other half go directly into the workforce.
"We also have some who go into the military," Zimmerman said. "At the Hammond Area Career Center, they can earn certification allowing them to get entry level employment. They can earn A+ certification in CISCO in our to computer technology program or earn a CNA certificate in our health care program."
The center offers a variety of programs for students, including an emergency medical technician certificate and industrial maintenance and welding program. "We have no problem placing students in these fields. We get calls from employers all of the time asking for welders. Our enrollment is between 400 and 500 students, " Zimmerman said.
Porter Township Schools Superintendent Stacey Schmidt said they are doing several things to prepare students for college and careers, including expanding dual credit offerings.
"We also encourage our students to take advantage of the many opportunities through the Porter County Career Center. The opportunities through our career center provide hands-on, real-life learning in fields of interest. We also make use of a math fair at the middle school in which we invite in many different career areas and the students rotate through these stations learning about how math is needed for each career — from landscape design to manufacturing plants, Schmidt said.