On June 25, 2019, the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus and Afterschool Alliance convened a briefing to discuss the newest iteration of Perkins that went into effect on July 1, 2019: Perkins V. This new legislation aims to increase learner access to high-quality CTE programs by focusing on systems alignment and program improvement. Perhaps one of the most notable changes is that for the first time, Perkins is placing a strong emphasis on the middle grades. That is, schools with children in grades 5-8 will now offer career advisement, guidance, and exposure. This change comes as no surprise given the shift in our society to a more technologically advanced culture, thus younger age students must have exposure to 21st century technology in the classroom to be able to compete in the ever advancing job market. The briefing focused on providing facts on Perkins V and the importance of afterschool programs, data, and suggestions on ways that states can use the reauthorization to benefit all students.
Early Career Exposure in the Middle Grades
Much of the discussion at the briefing focused on how states and districts can leverage afterschool partners and community resources to provide middle school students with meaningful career exposure opportunities. By exposing students to possible careers in the middle grades, policy leaders are aiming for students to be better prepared for college and/or the workforce. Regina Sidney-Brown (Director of the Delaware Afterschool Network (DEAN)), nicely summarizes this point:
“For the first time, the Career and Technical Education (CTE) law includes a focus on middle school career exploration, grades 5-8, and emphasizes working closely with community partners. While new to the law, community partners across the country such as afterschool and summer learning programs have long been introducing students to career pathways, building connections to local businesses, and creating bridges with CTE programs during middle schools’ critical developmental period for youth.”
Local Career Exploration within the Implementation of Perkins V
Perkins V creates access to opportunities that several populations of students were not exposed to before. One population that was thought-provoking to hear about was the homeschooled population. There are several homeschooled students utilizing resources provided by Perkins V, something that has generally been unheard of. Specifically, one resource that is a major help to homeschooled students is having access to CTE schools and programs within their community.
One of the panelists from the briefing was a young student, age twelve, named Jacob. Jacob said that he is currently being homeschooled, but has access to coding classes through Digital Harbor Foundation, a youth-centered makerspace dedicated to fostering learning, creativity, productivity, and community through education in the afterschool hours. All programs are “pay as you can” supported with a combination of public funds, local business contributions, foundations, and other donations. With a proud smile, Jacob said one of his proudest moments was winning several coding competitions due to the knowledge he gained in the coding program. In thinking about the importance of afterschool programs and CTE, without this act, students like Jacob would have limited options to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in coding competitions. As Jacob has made clear, the Perkins Act has opened a door to finding innovative ways for students of all educational backgrounds to have access to CTE programs such as coding classes through community partnerships.
Local Support for Afterschool CTE programs
Delaware Afterschool Alliance was one of the afterschool organizations that was featured at the briefing, and representatives spoke about the innovative work they are doing. Delaware was featured because the Delaware Afterschool Network has a strong network and endorses the goal that all school-age children be academically, socially, culturally, and physically healthy. DEAN, along with partners, works to create a long-term policy voice for afterschool programs; advocates for policies that support quality programs; supports afterschool workforce development; and garners public support for afterschool programs.
The reauthorization of Perkins V provides increased access to locally identified in-demand, high needs fields, particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and computer science fields. In providing access to fields with increasing demand, Perkins is able to provide greater access to career exploration to even more students, especially when it is used in tandem with other legislation such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Higher Education Act (HEA), and Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA). ESSA specifically has a piece within its legislation called the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program (21st CCLC), a federal program that provides support to afterschool programs and can be used in connection with Perkins. Together, Perkins V, ESSA, HEA, and WIOA can facilitate an education-to-workforce pipeline that provides all students with the academic, technical, and employability skills they need to be successful in the workforce. If states use these acts together, phenomenal work can be done for afterschool programs. When considering the expansion of the use of Perkins V, there are several considerations the panel asked policymakers and lawmakers to consider:
- How are lawmakers connecting their constituents to afterschool resources and opportunities for students that are a part of Perkins V?
- During the time when afterschool programs should be going on, what are students in your particular community doing if they do not have access to afterschool programs?
- What is your particular state doing to create innovative career explorative opportunities through as Perkins V?
The panelists also made suggestions on ways community stakeholders can get involved:
- Contribute to the development of a state’s CTE plan. Stakeholders and afterschool program leaders are able to do this by contacting their local CTE director through the CTE Director Directory.
- Spark the conversation about the importance of afterschool programs at local and state levels.
To learn more about the briefing, Perkins V, and the programs featured, visit The Afterschool Alliance.