Oct 28, 2019

Pilot Program Enables Select Students to Participate in Fifth Year of High School to Boost Chances of Success After Graduation

BATON ROUGE, La. -- School systems, colleges and employers across Louisiana have the opportunity to raise their hands to pilot a new, innovative education initiative called an "Extension Academy," an alternative graduation model that enables select students to participate in a fifth year of high school to earn career skills and credit toward a college degree, and in turn, boost their chances of success following graduation. The priority application deadline for the 2020-2021 school year is November 20.

Extension Academy pilot programs will specifically support students who are positioned to graduate from high school but have yet to earn Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) scholarships to fund their post-secondary pursuits or to acquire high-value, post-secondary credentials. In 2018, for example, about 15,000 students in Louisiana who graduated on a TOPS University Diploma pathway were not eligible for TOPS scholarships to fund higher education, and about 3,200 students who graduated on a Jump Start TOPS Tech Career Diploma were not on track to earn an advanced industry-based credential and were not eligible for TOPS Tech scholarships to fund further training. 

Louisiana entities interested in applying must outline how they, over the course of the three-year pilot, will provide these students a debt-free one-year opportunity to:

  • Achieve significant progress toward a state-recognized associate's degree through accelerated dual enrollment college experiences;
  • Complete a registered pre-apprenticeship; and/or
  • Earn an advanced industry-based credential.

In their pitch, applicants must also detail the types of support and post-secondary transitional coaching that will be available to the participating students as they complete their extended high school experience.

"The question we used to ask ourselves was how high we could raise our graduation rate and how low we could push our dropout rate. Now we are compelled to ask what happens to our graduates, and whether they risk dropping out of work and the economy even after they graduate from high school. If this is the case, even with a small number of students, we must rise to meet this new dropout challenge," said State Superintendent John White. "We encourage our school systems, as well as our higher education, business and community partners, to develop small-scale models for study and potential replication in the future, and to consider the potential impact their involvement could have on young people at a critical point in their lives."

Following the application period, selected pilot sites will be presented to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) for approval at its joint meeting with the Louisiana Board of Regents in December.

The Louisiana Department of Education's recent Request for Applications for these pilots is the second of its kind. The first call for applications occurred last school year. The Orleans Parish School Board--in partnership with YouthForce NOLA, an education, business and civic collaborative that prepares New Orleans public school students for successful pursuit of high-wage, high-demand career pathways--was the only school system to submit a pilot application for 2019-2020, and BESE and the Board of Regents approved the plan in June.

The approved plan brings together 29 area schools and various local partners, including some of the region's largest companies, to provide hands-on opportunities to build workplace skills and training in construction crafts, graphic design, video editing and software development. The accredited higher education partner, which will provide accelerated dual enrollment college experiences, is Southern New Hampshire University.

Currently, 18 eligible students are participating in the initiative. Each student has an individualized plan for their year-long experience.

On an average day, for example, a student might build technical skills in the morning, polish soft skills over lunch with industry professionals, and complete core college coursework in the late afternoon. The next day the same student might apply the soft, technical and academic skills learned in their coursework at a real-world work site. At the same time, that student will receive support and ongoing coaching focused on their next steps.

"Many young people are eager for the skills and connections that will lead them to real-life success and want their education to help them do this," said YouthForce NOLA President Cate Swinburn. "This is not an effort that any one organization or school can pursue alone. The Extension Academy initiative is enabling the YouthForce NOLA collaborative to build bridges between school and work, opening more doors to economic opportunity for New Orleans students."

"We are committed to creating pathways to post-secondary success for all of our students, which is why we did not hesitate to partner with YouthForce NOLA and our school leaders on a local Extension Academy program," said NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis Jr. "We are thrilled to be the first district in the state to pilot such an innovative program that is tailored to meet the needs of all our students. Our job as educators is to provide opportunities for students to gain the knowledge and skills to be successful in life.  With this program, students have an opportunity to spend an additional year working on college coursework or earning industry credentials without incurring any debt. These types of opportunities are invaluable for our students here in New Orleans."

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