Today's economy looks very different from the one we were in even just a few years ago. In turn, the future of work is changing and the skills needed for success are rapidly evolving. While students need to continue professional-skill development, an understanding of STEM subjects and access to Career Readiness programs are increasingly important. As a leader of Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA) and Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin (DCAWI), I always keep this in mind in order to prepare our students for the real world.
The virtual settings of WIVA and DCAWI eliminate barriers of equity while increasing access to Career Readiness and STEM programs. Students can access effective Career Readiness education on a part- or full-time basis, which prepares them to graduate high school ready to tackle a career or post-secondary education opportunities – whichever option makes the most sense for them.
As we launched DCAWI, we formed a general advisory council made up of business leaders from around the state who aligned with the clusters within the Career Readiness program—ranging from finance to IT to marketing.
With the guidance of the council, we looked at industry needs statewide. For example, many cited a need for employees in the health science industry, and the consensus was to encourage students to pursue a certified nursing aide (CNA) certificate. This is a gateway certification to hirable jobs within the medical field. Students can earn that certificate while in high school, get a job immediately upon graduation, and continue their education while working.
Our curriculum is responsive to the industry. In southeastern Wisconsin, there is a need for heavy machinery and manufacturing workers. Area colleges are reviewing our curriculum to ensure we're teaching students the skills they need. After this articulation process, a part-time program will be offered in collaboration with area partners with the goal of offering this option to full-time students at DCAWI. Being responsive to industry needs and testing programs with experienced teachers before offering the curriculum to full-time students at DCAWI allows us to best prepare future workers. Everyone benefits, as students get good jobs earning a livable wage and employers have skilled workers.
We plan to work with the general advisory council to host a virtual information session where students can learn about job opportunities that are aligned with their pathways of interest. Not only do we want to fill industry needs, but we also want students to reach their full potentials and have meaningful, rewarding careers.
As a school, our priority is our students. We've learned that increasing collaborative practices—and building a curriculum based on the needs of our state's economy—is immensely rewarding for them. We want people to come to our schools, create enduring connections with our staff, and find a place that can be their academic home to help them be successful in the future. With that at the heart of our efforts, we've seen increased student retention, pre-registration, and staff retention. Our hope is that anyone who is engaged in our schools feels a sense of belonging and purpose while also having access to the resources they need, on an individual level, to become a part of the changing workforce.