Quilcene: Expanding opportunities in a rural district

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Quilcene: Expanding opportunities in a rural district

Relationships. Strategic use of resources. An activity or class to match every student’s interests. These are a few of the principles that guide the decisions of Quilcene School District leaders and educators.

With these principles in mind, superintendent Frank Redmon, K-12 principal Sean Moss, and other administrators and teachers are executing a plan to grow Career and Technical Education (CTE) course offerings in line with the local economy, such that students are better positioned to succeed in the career path they choose, whether close to home or farther afield.

The Quilcene K-12 school serves about 220 students – a student population size that allows for regular one-on-one guidance about course selection, post-high school plans, and more. Strong relationships with students, as well as community-based businesses and other partners, are a significant benefit for a small district.

A big challenge: finding and using resources strategically to meet the needs of students.

“We need to make sure all resources are strategically placed and aligned to provide as many opportunities for students as possible,” Redmon said. “My first year here, I asked how can we continue to evolve our CTE program?”

The existing CTE offerings focused primarily on culinary skills – a strong program with local relevance. Leaders wanted to build from this success to offer additional pathways to local jobs.

“What are the students going to do when they graduate? Many stay around here and get jobs working in industry. We needed to grow viable pathways through high school and into the workforce,” Redmon said.

Expanding CTE offerings

In assessing how to grow CTE course offerings, Redmon and Moss started by talking with students and local businesses. They heard a lot of interest in agriculture-related instruction. Both students and business leaders helped design and build the agricultural mechanics program, including creating the shop out of the maintenance team’s former space.

They also found an educator who fit the school’s needs precisely – Annetta Carey-Fuson, an enterprising instructor of agriculture mechanics, plant science, animal science, and more. She has also helped foster a burgeoning computer science course with help from the IT staff member, as a result of student interest.

Now, students can begin exploring ag mech – which aligns with many local careers in the agriculture, construction, and maritime industries – as early as 7th grade, with an agriculture class that gets to work with a new hydroponic system that will grow vegetables to be cooked in the cafeteria.

Offering students the chance to work with their hands can spark a passion they didn’t know they had, Carey-Fuson said.

“Once they get past the initial fear of welding, suddenly they are building houses,” Carey-Fuson said. “I see that engagement with students where they are starting to take the initiative of their own learning.”

Partnerships with local businesses show students tangible careers that await them after their education or training, which may range from an industry-recognized credential to a four-year degree, depending on the job.

Carey-Fuson and Moss said many businesses offer support ranging from supplies and equipment to job shadow opportunities and paid internships.

“These are really important connections,” Moss said.

Small, rural districts have a difficult time providing the range of course offerings in CTE that larger districts do, said Kimberly Hetrick, director of Career Connected Learning for Olympic Educational Service District 114. Quilcene has worked hard to address this inequity, Hetrick added.

A strong HSBP process

How might a student know whether they want to pursue agriculture, or any other career pathway? That’s where exploration comes in through the High School and Beyond Plan process. The Plan is a statewide graduation requirement, though districts have a lot of latitude in how they implement it.

“The High School and Beyond Plan is the greatest vehicle of student voice, choice, and self-advocacy,” Hetrick said.

In Quilcene, the Plan is embedded in English classes so students have a consistent time and place to work on it, Moss said.

Students start the Plan in middle school with interest surveys and career exploration. They also use tools to understand the future salary needed to sustain the lifestyle they desire.

“It’s a bit of a reality check,” Moss said.

As students move into high school and build out their Plan, they gain more hands-on opportunities for job shadows and engagement with guest speakers aligned with the interests they’ve explored and expressed. Field trips are also a regular part of the school day, including to college campuses and local businesses, such as a foundry, a veterinary clinic, a shipyard, and more.

“We take more field trips than any school I’ve ever seen,” Moss said with a smile.

By engaging with the Plan, students understand paths they might choose. They can select relevant CTE courses, as well as opportunities like College in the High School, which enable students to earn college credit through classes offered at the high school campus.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster for students to earn that college credit,” said school counselor Tiffiny Jaber.

Looking to the future

The goal for Redmon and Moss is not only that students earn a high school diploma.

“The reason we do this work is so that kids can graduate and have a really good idea of what their pathway is going forward,” Redmon said. “That requires us to engage in a different way than if the diploma was the endpoint.”

To understand how these efforts are working, the district conducts exit interviews with seniors and keeps in touch with recent graduates. For two years following graduation, the registrar makes phone calls twice per year to check on former students and understand how they’re doing.

“We ask, how did we do? Were you ready for your college classes?” Redmon said. The feedback is typically honest and often positive.

Both Moss and Redmon shared many stories of graduates happily working in their career of choice, in construction, wildfire management, and at a local shipyard.

Efforts to develop engaging, relevant, rigorous opportunities are ongoing in Quilcene. Geography is a challenge – the remoteness of the town makes exposure to a wide variety of career paths and post-high school education options more difficult.

Leaders also want to continue growing pathway options – child care and health care are two burgeoning needs – by collaborating with other nearby districts who are developing coursework and business connections in these fields.

Helping students learn to advocate for themselves and build resilience are ongoing efforts too, Jaber said. The beauty of a small community is lots of support, and the flip side is helping students build the confidence that they can thrive in different places and spaces.

With their eyes on ways to build more opportunities for students going forward, Redmon and Moss are proud of what they’ve accomplished and the systems they’re putting in place for the future.

“We’ve built a lot of positive relationships,” Moss said. “Everything we’re doing has legs beyond us.”