Paul Morris is on the forefront of a slate of college-and-career efforts across Delaware, bringing his expertise on employer partnerships at the postsecondary to the K-12 world.
We talked to the associate vice president for workforce development at Delaware Tech about his very busy school year ahead.
Everyone knows about Delaware Technical Community College and the great things you guys provide in terms of career training for high school grads or adults continuing their education. But when did this notion of getting to kids while they’re still in high school first enter your radar?
Delaware Tech has been engaging school-aged youth for over 40 years in Delaware. The college has hosted numerous federal programs such as Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search, serving thousands of middle and high school students during that time period. We also interact with approximately 1,500 to 2,000 youth each summer and throughout the school year through our career, specialty, and sports camps. Lastly, over the past 10 years, we have partnered with all f the school districts within Delaware offering dual enrollment opportunities for students looking to earn college credits while in high school.
And what, specifically, is your role in Pathways and/or work-based learning?
Delaware Tech has been a key member of the Delaware Pathways team since its inception four years ago. Our high school advanced manufacturing program was the first pathway offered and was the model for the other pathways as it offered advanced college credits, meaningful work-based learning experiences, and portable credentials.
Delaware Tech is connected to every pathway currently offered through Delaware Pathways. Additionally, due to the college’s history with engaging and supporting employers in Delaware, we were chosen to perform the duties of intermediary for work-based learning from the onset. Within this role, we are responsible for operating the Office of Work-Based Learning, which engages employers, schools, and students to develop and deliver a continuum of work-based learning activities for students from seventh grade through the first two years of postsecondary education. The ultimate goal of these activities is to ensure our youth are both college and career ready upon graduation.
Why do you think Pathways has taken off in Delaware the way that it has?
Pathways meets two important but specific needs. First, it provides secondary school students with the opportunity to become both college and career ready upon graduation. Students have many opportunities through the program to engage with employers and professionals within their chosen career field to better prepare them for the workforce. Second, Pathways creates an employer engagement structure so that employers understand the benefits and can easily connect with qualified students who have an interest in their specific career area.
What are some of your favorite Pathways success stories you like to tell?
My favorite success story is about a young man named “Joe.” He came from a blue collar middle class family from New Castle. He was a superstar in the manufacturing program from day one. He excelled in the hands-on portion of the program and wanted to transition into working within the manufacturing industry upon graduation. Joe had a couple of opportunities for work once he graduated, but chose to accept an unpaid internship at a local company that he desired to work at long term. He did such a great job with that internship that the company offered him a contracting position. Due to his work ethic and long-term vision, he continued to excel and was recently hired directly by the company. He is doing great and is planning to continue his studies in a post-secondary program in his field.
There are a lot of efforts unfolding in the college and career-prep world. What are you most excited about here at the start of a new school year?
I’m most excited about the work we are doing within the Office of Work-Based Learning. We are building the framework so that thousands of Delaware students will have the opportunity to participate in meaningful work-based learning activities. These activities will range from awareness activities like visiting a company on a structured tour to immersion activities like a paid internship. These activities will assist students in making college and career decisions upon graduation. They will provide students with documented work experience to inform their resumes. These activities will also help Delaware companies build a much-needed pipeline of trained workers for the future.
What are Industry Councils and what will they do/accomplish?
Industry Councils are groups of individuals representing a specific industry convened to inform the educational and business communities on the trends, needs, and partnership opportunities within the industry. Typically, a council will have an executive committee that will meet quarterly and create sub-committees as needed. The executive committee will hold an annual public meeting where they will go over their annual report and engage with members of the public.
You get to engage with all sides of the equation, so to speak. What’s your go-to selling point for employers when it comes to WBL? How about for parents or high school students?
Engaging and partnering with Delaware Pathways and the Office of Work-Based Learning is a key strategy in building a sustainable pipeline of future trained workers. These types of partnerships allow companies to inform curriculum, build relationships with students, and develop working relationships with educational and training providers. Employers will have the ability to create a specific pipeline that will feed their hiring needs in the future.
Participating within Delaware Pathways and specifically work-based learning activities is a no-brainer for students. They will graduate high school with a defined career path and valuable work experience within their chosen industry. They will have an opportunity to earn industry- recognized credentials, college credits, and build work readiness and soft skills that will further enhance their ability to enter the workforce after graduation. Our ultimate goal is to ensure students are both college and career ready upon graduation.
Let’s say I’m a business owner and I’m interested. What do I do? What’s my first step?
The first step is to contact the Office of Work-Based Learning at:
The Office of Work-Based Learning
Dual School, a pilot initiative modeled after High Tech High in California, is becoming a phenomenon in Delaware. This innovative and empowering program exemplifies “learning by doing.”
Instead of lectures and worksheets, students spend a semester digging in on a problem plaguing their community (or the world at large) from immigration to increasing financial literacy among youth. More importantly, students are encouraged to test solutions to their problem.
With a combination of independent research, mentorship, and the space to work on projects they care about, Dual School provides students with the agency to drive their own learning and acquire the skills needed to solve tomorrow’s problems.
You can find Dual School at two locations in Delaware: 1313 Innovation and William Penn High School (WP).
Our very own Rodel Teacher Council member, Stephanie Diggins, will be teaching the Dual School course this year at WP. We caught up with Stephanie while she was setting up her classroom and talked with her about this novel opportunity.
1) Can you explain what Dual School will look like at WP?
My students will participate in the Dual School course for a full school year (August – June). The students participating had to apply for the course and those accepted will receive credits toward their diploma.
Dual School’s model stresses the importance of providing a space where students can work on projects they care about.
During the first semester, my students will begin brainstorming and selecting their project or issue area. Once they’ve selected, we’ll match them with a mentor and various community leaders that can offer real-world insights into the project or issue area they are trying to solve.
And throughout the second semester, my students will build out and execute on their project in various ways such as running workshops, creating physical prototypes, and/or developing websites. My students will also exhibit their projects at two large-scale exhibitions during the school year.
2) How will this course improve the lives of your students?
Dual School is a perfect example of project-based learning. It allows my students to develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills in the context of doing an authentic, meaningful project. My students will be able to build on the skills they are learning in their classes and apply them to other areas.
This process is all very similar to what is experienced at a job or in college. Dual School will definitely prepare them for whatever path they choose after they graduate from WP.
3) Dual School is relatively new to Delaware. Prior to this opportunity, did you know about them?
Yes, I attended the final exhibition of the first cohort earlier this year. It was cool to see what the students had done for their projects. I remember there were projects on issues like mental health in schools and the tampon tax. One student even coded a website that I was so impressed by and wanted to use in my classroom.
4) After seeing the results of the first cohort, what are you most looking forward to when it comes to teaching the new Dual School class at WP?
Dual School students often work independently and in an environment that does not look like a traditional classroom. So, I am excited to see how teaching this course differs from teaching my other courses. I will not be standing in front of the class lecturing or assigning worksheets but rather having my students tell me what they need and supporting them along their project plans.
5) Sounds like you’re going to have to be flexible. What have you done to prepare for teaching this Dual School course?
Recently, I attended a professional development training hosted by Dual School and Blue Dot Education. The training covered project-based learning, which is what my Dual School students will be experiencing and I will be teaching. At the training, the facilitators asked us to build a rocket out of random materials. This assignment gave us a taste of project-based learning from a student’s perspective.
Our first rocket launch failed spectacularly but the experience was one of the most valuable I’ve ever had. We deconstructed the project, process, even the role of the facilitators. We then were able to implement the feedback and our rocket launched successfully. Check it out here!
6) Is there anything else you would like others to know about the upcoming Dual School initiative?
We need mentors for my students! Mentors can choose a day of the week from 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. to visit our classroom and advise a student working on a topic related to their work. It’s a great opportunity for both the student and mentor. Interested in becoming a Dual School mentor? Fill out an application here.
Stephanie Diggins is a Teacher Academy and Theatre Teacher at William Penn High School in New Castle, Delaware. She is currently serving her second term on the Rodel Teacher Council.
Getting out of the classroom and onto a jobsite isn’t just a field trip. Studies show it can open college and career doors for students after high school, especially for low-income students.
National research indicates that by 2020, around 65 percent of the family-sustaining jobs in Delaware will require at least some education beyond high school. Today, less than 60 percent of our 25-year-olds have that level of training.
Today in Delaware, state-model career pathways are opening doors for more students than ever. Thousands of high schoolers are earning early college credits. And thanks to a $3.25 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies, even more pathways and opportunities are coming.
Technical skills are great (and essential). But as anyone who’s ever worked in a professional setting can tell you—the so-called “soft skills” or employability skills are just as important.
That’s why Delaware is investing part of the grant money into the state’s first ever work-based learning course, an elective class for high schoolers that teaches things like communication, teamwork, and even dressing professionally—the sorts of skills that can be applied across industries and workplace settings. The class also comes with opportunities for internships with Delaware employers.
So how important are the soft skills? Opinions differ, but research from America Achieves shows that employers think they’re essential—and hard to find—in new hires.
So, what exactly is work-based learning?
Work-based learning can span from middle to high school. Career awareness begins in the early years and evolves into more clearly defined paths toward career goals, targeted curriculum, and, eventually, firsthand experiences like job shadowing or career coaching. During high school, students immerse themselves into a career area of their choice through internship or apprenticeship, among other options.
Work-based learning (WBL) offers students a chance to make more informed choices about careers before they get to college. Here’s why that matters:
It increases the chance of students getting education after high school.
A seven-year study of one California work-based learning program revealed that students who completed a WBL program entered college at double the rate of non-participating students.
It can increase the chances of low-income students accessing career prep.
One national study found disproportionately higher employment rates among teens from families that earn over $120,000 compared to youth from households where income is below $40,000.
Work-based learning provides students with the skills and competencies they need to one day become a computer engineer, or a registered nurse, for example. But it also helps build connections between K-12 schools, colleges, and local industries. And employers can often benefit from bringing young people’s energy, tech savvy, creativity, and innovative ideas to the table.
Who’s doing it?
Colorado began its work-based learning incubator in 2017, in collaboration with the Departments of Education and Labor, local colleges, and the Colorado Workforce Development Council. Tennessee’s work-based learning initiative uses the course as an option to fulfill high school graduation requirements.
National organizations such as YearUp (which recently opened a Wilmington branch), and local outfits like YouthForce NOLA in New Orleans use work-based learning models to close opportunity gaps for low-income students and young adults by offering career skills development.
WBL in Delaware
Delaware has been lauded as a national model for its postsecondary prep efforts, having successfully launched a career pathways system where students can access credit-bearing career prep coursework.
This fall, we’ll see the launch of the new Healthcare Industry Council. Industry Councils are a network and platform that allows employers to inform the development of the work-based learning course, keep the broader industry, students, educators and the community abreast of changing industry trends, and gather industry feedback on the development of work-based learning and engagement with high schools.
A new career pathway dedicated to Patient Care also launched this fall, and by next spring, Delaware will kick-off its first work-based learning course in some high schools.
The Office of Work-based Learning (OWBL), based in Delaware Technical Community College, will serve as Delaware’s intermediary between schools and employers, providing opportunities for engagement and interaction. OWBL facilitates employers connecting with schools through activities like classroom visits, job fairs, and internships, and will facilitate engagement between employers and schools through toolkits and similar resources.
Work-based learning is made for students, but employers are an essential piece of the puzzle.
Research and student outcomes show that work-based learning is a necessity for students and employers alike. Both groups benefit when classroom content is relevant and up-to-date with the latest industry trends. And when employers plug directly into schools, they can help dictate exactly which skills (both technical and soft) their future employees need. =
Want to learn more? Educators, advocates, and employers should register for the 11th Annual Vision Coalition and University of Delaware Conference, on October 11th. Hear from diverse Delaware voices —including DelTech’s Paul Morris and Christiana Care’s Dana Beckton on some amazing collaborations from the world of work-based learning.
Last month, the Delaware Department of Education released the latest graduation rates for Delaware high schoolers. The data provide us mixed messages. And while the headlines painted a mostly cheery picture of an overall increase in the statewide graduation rate, a closer look shows that students of color and high-needs students (low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners) continue to be left behind.
More students are graduating with a diploma overall—including some at-risk student populations.
The overall graduation rate increased slightly from 85 percent in 2016 to 86 percent in 2017. From 2014 to 2017, there has been an increase from 84 percent to 86 percent. During this time period we also saw gains among students of color and high-needs students.
Specifically, graduation rates for African American, Asian, and multi-racial students have increased. Students with disabilities have seen the largest increase of all high-needs groups (that is, among low-income students and English learners)—more than three percent.
But disparities in graduation rates raise serious concerns about a lack of college and career readiness supports for high-need students and Hispanic students.
English learners are graduating at a rate 14 percent less than the state average. In fact, graduation rates for English learners have dropped by seven percent over the last four years, from 75 percent in 2014 to 68 percent in 2017. Graduation rates for low-income students are behind the state average by nine percent, decreasing by 1.3 percent since 2014. While the graduation rate for students with disabilities has increased by 3.5 percent over the last four years, they still lag significantly behind the state average. Graduation rates for Hispanic students remain five percent behind the state average, and have remained stagnant since 2014.
Equity gaps—disparities between students of color, high needs students, and their peers—are slowly closing across the state. But disparities in graduation rates across schools and districts show that major inequities remain. Across all schools serving high schoolers, overall graduation rates ranged from a low of 65 percent to a high of more than 95 percent. Within schools, major disparities by race, ability, income, and English learner status point to an immediate need for more focused and targeted supports for these students.
School level graduation rate ranges across subgroups
Lowest Graduation Rate
Highest Graduation Rate
Students with disabilities
Note: Data are suppressed if the percentage of graduates is greater than 95 or less than 5.
As graduation rates continue to increase, other indicators such as SAT and remediation have remained stagnant, raising questions about the quality of education guaranteed through a high school diploma
A recent report released by Achieve indicated that Delaware is one of seven states and the District of Columbia that sets the expectation that a high school diploma includes college and career readiness requirements in English language arts and math. While more students are graduating, SAT results show that less than 30 percent of students are college and career ready in math, and only 53 percent are college and career ready in reading and writing.
For Delaware high school students that graduate and go to a Delaware college or university, 41 percent are required to take remedial math and/or English courses, for which they may not receive credit.
A closer look at graduation data reveals a need for targeted supports for underserved students of color and high-need students.
Graduation data, often reported as statewide averages, can sometimes mask the reality that lots of Delaware students are struggling to earn a high school diploma. A holistic view of the data offers the opportunity to see which students would benefit from extra academic supports through a range of programs and approaches—because different strategies work for different students. College and career readiness requires high academic expectations and opportunities for career exploration for all students. Support for high school success begins early, continues through transitions to middle, high school, into postsecondary and career, and includes:
Providing academic supports starting before elementary school. Research indicates that third grade is a critical turning point for students. A child who can read on grade level by third grade is four times more likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does not read proficiently by that time. Delaware Readiness Teams are one example of making sure children from birth to age eight are ready for school and life.
Adequate college and career advising for all students to help students identify their career path. Delaware Pathways can help students earn industry credentials through work-based learning experience in relevant career areas.
Equitable access to rigorous course options such as AP and dual enrollment for typically underserved students to provide access to rigor of college-level courses and earn early college credits.
Tying academics supports with social and emotional development for all students. College and career readiness is a whole child endeavor, and includes developing non-cognitive skills such as managing emotions, setting goals, building empathy, and responsible decision-making.
Implementing personalized learning models (such as competency-based learning), which tailors classroom instruction to the specific needs of the students. Supporting innovative learning models like this can help meet students where they are, and ensure that they are leaving high school prepared for college-level coursework.