Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Alicia Sells’ Plan for Empowering Students

By Torie Temple

Alicia Sells is changing the way students learn — and increasing their earning potential in the workforce.

As the director of innovation for the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, Alicia wanted to provide students with an education that is directly relevant to the workforce after graduation. She worked with the superintendents from Carroll, Gallatin, Henry, Owen, and Trimble counties to establish iLEAD Academy. “iLEAD is Kentucky’s first regional high school,” she says. “It is a career academy, which means it prepares students to enter higher paying jobs in the Louisville region. We will also work to get the students college-ready by the end of their sophomore year. As juniors and seniors, they will enroll full time at Jefferson County Technical College campus in Carrollton in order to graduate with an associate degree and a high school diploma.”

The driving force for creating iLEAD was the gap in qualified workforce that Alicia had heard employers complain about. “I have heard for years that employers need qualified workers, and they have high-wage jobs vacant due to this lack of qualified workers. So, our goal was to close this gap.”

The five small, rural school districts developed a jobs forecast report on the top 20 highest-paying jobs for students graduating from high school or college. Those jobs included advanced manufacturing, engineering, and technology. iLEAD prepares students from these districts for these types of jobs.

Currently, iLEAD has 42 freshman divided equally among the districts. “The kids apply to come, and they write an essay,” Alicia says. “We also look at math scores, which are important since the school is focused on science, engineering, technology, and math. Students we felt demonstrated the academic capacity to succeed and exhibit an ability to work independently were accepted.”

The classroom environment at iLEAD involves a blend of working online and direct coaching from the teachers. Once students graduate with their diploma and associate’s degree, they can enter the workforce or go into college and finish in two years instead of four.

This isn’t the end of Alicia’s project to prepare students for the workforce. She hopes to expand on the idea. “The next iLEAD I would like to start is in health care because that field is expected to grow by 27 percent by the end of this decade. We have already started the discussion of which districts would want to be involved and what those pathways need to look like.”

Alicia hopes the idea of iLEAD becomes contagious and spreads throughout the state, motivating each county to provide this option for students. “It is important for kids in all counties to have an education directly relevant to the workforce and opportunities that will be there for them,” she says.

Learn more at ileadacademy.org.

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