Pathways Program to Prepare Students for Future Careers


Students working on picnic tables last spring for Wheat Ridge’s construction class. By Rachel Vigil File Photo

Rachel Vigil , Editor-in-Chief

By Rachel Vigil

In recent years, the demand for jobs such as welding and constructing has skyrocketed while schools have increasingly been preparing students only for college, and not for any other career paths.

Currently, there is a deficit between the demand for workers in such fields and the number of people prepared to take on such positions. Wheat Ridge High School is attempting to rectify that through a new program called Pathways.

Wheat Ridge High School used to have a shop class, a welding class, and an auto shop. Like most schools in Jefferson County, and the nation, these programs were ended in order to prepare students for college and standardized tests. In lieu of these classes, students who want to pursue alternate career paths have been forced to attend Warren Tech, a technical education center with a campus in Lakewood.

However, Warren Tech has been unable to provide enough opportunities in technical fields for the students of Jefferson County. There are only 1000 available spots for a district serving 15,000-16,000 juniors and seniors (the only two grades that can go to Warren Tech).

“The access to Warren Tech is hard for a lot of kids,” said Griff Wirth, principal of Wheat Ridge High School. “You have a lot of kids who don’t have transportation to go there.”

The Pathways program aims to add additional instruction for students in alternative careers. This is the pilot year for the program that plans to offer several different apprenticeships in a variety of career paths.

“We’re trying to align ourselves strategically with what industry and the job report says are in demand and will be in demand,” Wirth stated.

The focus of this year revolves around construction, health sciences, and the hospitality industry. The Science Technology Engineering and Math program, or STEM, will also receive some focus, as it provides hands-on experience in a corresponding industry.

Our school’s construction class, which began last spring, will be one of the avenues for this program. The class is a partnership with the Colorado Construction Institute and provides instruction in the basic construction trade. This will also enable students involved in the class to get certifications so that they will already be completely qualified in the construction field by the time they start looking for a job.

Another partnership, this one with the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association (CHLA), will educate students in basic career skills as well as a month-long industry specific education. This will have a similar setup to Warren Tech, with students spending part of the day learning skills in the hotel industry and working in the field and part of the time at school, keeping up with their academics. After this, students will have the opportunity for a paid apprenticeship. CHLA and the school are trying to time the apprenticeship for April and May so that students can turn their apprenticeship into a summer job.

The school is attempting a similar program with health sciences. However, it has run into some speed bumps because students must be over 18 years old due to HIPAA laws–those that concern patient privacy. Wheat Ridge is currently partnered with Lutheran and is trying to find a way to have students work in the hospital without violating any of these laws.
One problem that may emerge is a lack of funding for the program. The entire district has been reeling since the 3A and 3B bond/mill levy issues did not pass, making funding increasingly more difficult to find.

“I’m not really getting the district to say ‘oh we want to fund this.’ I don’t have anybody we are ready to fund it with, but one of the solutions in the future, I think, is some of the industry needing more jobs and helping us.” As a principal, Wirth said he needs to be asking, “How do you manage to fund and staff more and extended programs?”

While the focus on these alternative career paths will be increased, Wirth hopes the school will be able to strike a balance between traditional academics and the new focus on careers. What impact this program will have on the students and school still remains to be seen, but the administration hopes that it will provide the students of Wheat Ridge with a wider variety of educational opportunities and career paths.