Beatriz Ramirez, a student at William Penn High School, found her passion for cooking through the school’s career pathways program. Photos by Amadu Mansaray.
Last month, from up on stage at the Chase Center on the Riverfront, Beatriz Ramirez told her story.
Today a senior at William Penn High School, Beatriz originally came to the U.S. not speaking English as a first language. She felt isolated at school, and often didn’t connect to her lessons or her fellow students. Until, that is, she discovered the school’s culinary arts program.
In the kitchen, Beatriz found her calling. With support from the chefs and instructors at William Penn, Beatriz is confident about her future. She’s combined her learnings from school with real-life experience, training under heralded chef Tom Hannum at Buckley’s Tavern. She’s already been accepted to Johnson & Wales University and the Culinary Institute of America—two of the country’s top culinary schools.
This is a powerful experience—and it’s one being shared by thousands of young people in Delaware. Beatriz and chef Hannum joined hundreds of state leaders last month at the Third Annual Delaware Pathways Conference. In the days leading up to the conference, the national Pathways to Prosperity Network held its institute in Wilmington, bringing together 150 representatives from 13 other states to our neck of the woods to talk about the tremendous progress we’ve seen here. In just three years Delaware Pathways has grown from 27 students to just under 6,000 in 11 career pathways and 38 high schools. While we have a ways to go, other states are now looking at Delaware as a national model, and are looking to learn from our success.
[Read: A Jolt of Blue-Collar Hope, The New York Times
As someone who has worked to improve our schools for close to three decades, this is one of the most transformative and concrete efforts I have been involved with.
As I reflect on a week’s worth of celebrating postsecondary achievements for Delaware, here are five takeaways:
- Delaware is a national leader – We heard from people across the country that Delaware is leading the pack in several areas, from scaling career pathways statewide; to creating and building partnerships across the K-12 system, private employers, and higher education; and braiding together funding streams to bolster our efforts. If we keep up our momentum, Delaware could become the first state in the country to get half of our high schoolers—20,000 by 2020—into a career pathway. [Read: Delaware Pathways Leading the Way, Jobs for the Future]
- Inclusiveness and equity is critical – These pathways need to be open to all. We heard that young people with disabilities can be huge benefactors and contributors in this work, and there’s a strong push to do more there. Groups like the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Christiana Care Health System, Downstate Transition Services, Exceptional Children, and a host of local employers are already leading the way.
- “College” doesn’t just mean a four-year degree—Shana Payne, director of Delaware’s Office of Higher Education, pointed out during her presentation of the Delaware College Success Report, that most of us think of “college” as the typical four-year undergraduate program, which simply isn’t and shouldn’t be the case for all students. We know that two-year, certificate and apprenticeship programs can be just as (if not more) impactful for preparing young people for the real world.
- We have some work to do – We also learned from the College Success report that we’re still not preparing enough young people for college coursework, and it’s possible that we’re not providing enough access to AP, dual-enrollment, and other challenging courses to kids in high school, especially to students of color or students from low-income families.
- The bandwagon is filling up, but there’s still plenty of ways to get involved—We saw at the student- and family-focused Pathways Expo that more than 250 students and families and 60 community organizations attended -are lining up to help students and partner with Pathways. More employers, parents and students are joining the ranks too. Visit delawarepathways.org to learn more about how you can get involved.