“How do we best prepare our students for the future?”
[ By Kendra Walker ]
Although the Gunnison Watershed School District’s Pathways program was introduced to many in the community as an online learning offering during the COVID-19 pandemic, the program is much more robust with the opportunities it provides for students. If the school district’s ballot issue 5A is approved by voters next week, a portion of the funding would go to expand the Pathways building to accommodate more career and technical/vocational education programming.
During a work session on October 24, Pathways director Chad Terry presented an overview of the Pathways program to the GWSD board. Essentially, the Pathways program enables students to pursue classes and interests in non-traditional settings. “Sometimes Pathways gets confused with just an online thing,” he said. “It’s really a cross representation of all students in the school district. We serve approximately 200 students in kindergarten through 12th grade and we offer 100 different course options and programs.” Pathways has about 10 part- and full-time staff.
Pathways includes Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, online coursework, college courses, internships with Gunnison Valley businesses, work study and outdoor education opportunities. Students often take a course through Pathways for health reasons, a career interest, credit recovery, schedule conflicts, unique learning needs or personal reasons.
The goal of Pathways, said Terry, is to help all students leave the school district college or career ready. The school district currently has a graduation rate of 95%. “We’re continually asking, how do we best prepare our students for the future, whether that be the next grade level, college, the workforce or another additional training and education,” he said. “Pathways also consistently supports students who are in danger of not graduating by offering a variety of educational supports and programming.”
Pathways offers online options for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Terry noted that even though a lot of students were taking online courses during COVID, whether full-time or in a hybrid online/in-person format, the majority of students taking online courses have most of their classes in person with just one or two online. The curriculum is offered through a third party online platform and students work through the online units and assignments over a schedule that works for them. “It offers families more flexibility,” said Terry.
As part of the program, students meet with a GWSD teacher at least once a week for additional instruction, grades, due dates and feedback. Terry noted that the student success rate for the Pathways online courses is over 80%, which far outpaces the national average. “Our online program is successful because of the relationships our teachers build with the students,” he said.
Internships and work study
Students also have the opportunity to participate in an internship with a business partner in the Gunnison Valley. “The goal with internships is that they engage in an industry that is a potential career interest for them,” said Terry. A student participates in learning activities throughout the semester with the business partner, who completes evaluations on the student.
Students can also engage in a work study program. “A lot of our students have part-time jobs, and they can earn a semester of elective credits for every 80 hours of documented time they have worked,” said Terry.
Pathways offers a variety of outdoor education opportunities, including Ski PE for high school students, overnight mountain biking trips and day hikes with high school clubs. Terry noted as Pathways continues to build out the outdoor education program, he hopes to also offer regional backpacking trips, rock climbing and an outdoor leadership program.
College courses and CTE
Through Pathways, students can take college courses at Western Colorado University, Technical College of the Rockies and Western Colorado Community College. According to Terry, between 30 and 50 students in the district take these concurrent enrollment courses every year.
Pathways also runs four CTE programs, including a Certified Nursing Aide program, Medical Assistant program, Hair Styling program and Early Childhood Education courses. Additionally, Pathways assists with three other CTE programs, including Agriculture, Construction Trades and Architecture and Design.
Students can obtain industry certification through the Certified Nursing Aide, Medical Assistant and Hair Styling programs. “Students can earn not only a high school diploma but also an industry certificate that shows they have the skills to go into that industry,” said Terry.
Terry hopes the CTE programs will continue to grow with offerings and student enrollment, with the plan to increase CTE programs in Hospitality/Tourism. He also notes a vision for the future where the construction CTE program provides students more hands-on, real-world experience, and could even provide opportunities for students to build workforce housing for the school district.
“We hope we have some good news for you in a couple of weeks,” said board president Tyler Martineau regarding next week’s election and ballot measure 5A. “The need is there.”