The Town Council recently approved the new Department for Further Education & Community Service to help make students more "career ready." Now, the discussion begins about whether to fund the department or use existing resources to get the job done.
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TOWN LOOKS AT GETTING LOCAL STUDENTS MORE CAREER READY
MIDDLETOWN (APRIL 28, 2020) – Town Councilman Dennis Turano wants Middletown to take a page out of the Town of Cumberland’s playbook.
Specifically, the two-plus term councilman said he believes Middletown and its schools could do a lot for its youth – and eventually other populations – by getting them more career ready in the evolving 21st century world.
Using the Cumberland Mayor’s Office of Children, Youth & Learning as the model, Turano said the town and schools should investigate whether such an approach would work here.
In response, the council recently approved a resolution from Turano to create a new Middletown Department for Further Education & Community Service and to see if funding could be included in the proposed fiscal 2022 budget to launch such an effort.
“I just thought it was such a good program,” said Turano, who visited the Cumberland academy to get a first-hand view. “I just know when my kids were going through high school, sometimes they needed some additional help.”
Turano’s proposal isn’t to say Middletown and its schools don’t prepare students for the “real world” after leaving the walls of Middletown High. A quick review of the school’s offerings includes “Beyond The Bell,” where students in need of help can get extra assistance after school at no cost.
“I know it’s tough times and I know we’re tight on dollars,” Turano said. “I know the schools going to come and ask us for additional dollars and maybe as we work closer with Beyond The Bell, we find that this department doesn’t need to exist.”
During the school day, there’s also great emphasis placed on courses spotlighting Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, or STEAM. Nowhere is this more obvious than the Project Lead The Way lab at the rear of the Valley Road school, where all these disciplines are rolled into one rigorous program. The high school also offers career tracks like computer science and pre-engineering, both aimed at helping students get a start in the defense and other related industries.
Local students also have the option of enrolling at Newport County Career & Technical Center on the campus of Rogers High School in Newport. There, students have the option of any number of career pathways from advertising and automotive tech to culinary arts, construction, cosmetology, tourism and hospitality and more.
During a discussion of Turano’s proposal, several other council members said they supported the idea of doing whatever is reasonably possible to help Middletown youth – and adults down the line -- in need of career assistance.
However, they did not want to duplicate services already offered in the community or conflict with existing programs. They also said for Turano’s concept to move forward, there needed to be 100 percent “buy in” from the Middletown schools.
According to the council, school officials said approximately 20 percent of the students who graduate from Middletown High go directly into the work force. And that number increases more after the first year of college.
Hearing about the success of a similar program pushed by former Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee – now governor of Rhode Island – Turano said Middletown should try to do more to help get them ready.
“The goal was to get the children smarter and get them ready for the ‘real world’ and help them with careers so when they graduate, their grades are up and they have more of an understanding of where they can go in life and what direction they might want to head,” Turano said.
Councilwoman Terri Flynn said the town’s Economic Development Advisory Committee has been meeting with Superintendent Rosemarie K. Kraeger to see if there were quality options with work in electrical, plumbing, robotics and aeronautics.
“This has been bubbling for years,” Flynn said. “It keeps popping up and I think that the bottom line that the governor is trying to get across to everyone is that education is a community responsibility.”
Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown said staff looked into the Cumberland academy and it was started with seed money that came from a grant. In the beginning, it was staffed by one retired teacher working with a budget of $50,000 and grew from there.
“I love the idea and I think we need to work with the School Department,” council President Paul M. Rodrigues said. “I’m not sure creating a new department…is the way to go. I think we need to sit with the School Department and develop that relationship…so there’s no redundant services.”
“I want to keep it focused on the children right now, the students to help them get through COVID and better understand distance learning,” Turano said. “They need help in Pre-K, they need help from backpack to the briefcase.”