The beauty of our great state being so expansive is that we have young people with immense talent and potential located all over the place. They’re bright, driven and without a doubt have the power to transform the communities they call home.

Ensuring they have the tools to do so is where it gets a little tricky. If a rural student is struggling at his or her school, switching to another school might not be so easy. That’s why we need to consider new approaches such as pairing the boundary-breaking power of online learning with a Career Readiness Education (CRE).

Many adults enjoy remote work. It significantly expands their job options in a state where your commute could easily span tens to hundreds of miles. Yet very few have seriously considered how it could similarly benefit kids. For kids in rural areas with only a few brick-and-mortar school options, a virtual classroom could be a strong alternative. There they get to learn the very same K-12 curriculum that their peers from all other parts of the state are learning and they get to do so at their own pace. They learn accountability, time management and how to work with peers and superiors in a virtual setting — not unlike what’s required of workers in many of today’s jobs.

This leads me to Career Readiness Education. Career-oriented curriculum places greater emphasis on preparing students for — you guessed it — careers. This hasn’t been the case for decades with most high schools focusing primarily on readying kids for college. For a while, it worked; a college degree was once the most reliable ticket to social mobility and a greater income. But that’s changing. Big companies like IBM, Apple and Hilton are actively seeking out talented workers who don’t have college degrees — and that means our approach to teaching must change.

Not to be confused with strictly vocational programs, CRE more broadly equips students with the practical skills they need to thrive in the modern workforce. It starts with offering students career-exploration classes, then presents to those interested the technical education classes designed and sometimes taught by former industry professionals. This can include anything from manufacturing, health sciences and agriculture, to IT and business.

All schools should provide their students with pathways to successful careers, but the reality is not all have the resources to do so. Herein lies the power of online education.

For brick-and-mortar schools seeking to implement more career-prep options for their students but are unable to quickly connect with industry partners, develop curriculum and secure instructors, they can adopt existing online programs and give their students a blend of both in-person and online instruction. For students in areas where such in-person opportunities are not available, the presence of virtual K-12, career-focused schools and courses keep their zip code from determining their long-term success.

In short, online CRE is a way for Texans to make sure every student has the same chance to achieve long-term success. With it, students in under-resourced districts can access the same opportunities that their peers in wealthier districts can, without making compromises concerning the content of the coursework or the quality of the instruction. It’s an equalizing approach that ensures all students — from Texarkana to El Paso, from Amarillo to Brownsville — can realize their potential and make the most of their abilities.

Everything is bigger in Texas — our ambitions, our aspirations, and yes, our talent. By harnessing the opportunities that CRE presents, especially in an online environment, we can ensure that the next generation has all the tools they need for personal and professional success and maximize their impact.

Elizabeth Nelson is head of school at Texas eSchool Prep, powered by K12, Inc.

Load comments