On the career path: Bradley County schools getting $4.5 million grant to link education, workforce

On the career path: Bradley County schools getting $4.5 million grant to link education, workforce

April 8th, 2014 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Bradley Central High School instructor Shawn Williams, left, checks the precise cut made by student Alex Clabough, 17. Clabough used a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) lathe to do the work in preparation for next week's Skills USA Trade and Industry competition at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The Bradley County Schools system has been awarded a $4.5 million federal grant to coordinate education and work and career opportunities.

The grant, part of $107 million in awards given to 27 school districts across the nation, was announced Monday by President Barack Obama at Bladensburg High School in Bladensburg, Md.

"It's about connecting our kids today with the workforce and giving them the workforce skills they need," said Arlette Robinson, supervisor of the career and technical department for the county school system.

The four-year grant will fund equipment to support and update school programs in advanced manufacturing, information technology and health science careers, Robinson said.

Students graduating in those programs will have the education, experience and skills needed to succeed in their selected career paths, schools officials said.

"It will be like night and day," said machine instructor Shawn Williams of Bradley Central High School. "New equipment will help better prepare students for new industry standards and higher levels of precision."

The grant also will be used to integrate 3-D printers and mechatronic systems, which are commonly associated with automobile manufacturing, into the work-based learning programs, Robinson said.

Health sciences students will get a chance to use telemedicine equipment, which can be used to remotely examine patients, she said.

In addition to technology purchases, the grants will fund career coaches and a workplace learning director, Robinson said.

She said another benefit of the grant is that it will allow the school system to better coordinate a number of successful career-driven academic programs under a unified administration.

The work-based programs received praise from Bradley Central High senior Joshua Phelps, a student of advanced manufacturing.

"This program has taught me a lot about the machinist trade and given me some experience for the workforce," he said.

Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley County Schools, said the grant process was "very competitive."

"Bradley County Schools' staff worked very hard to write this grant in a way that reflects our needs and emphasizes the great partnerships we have in the community," he said.

Robinson said much of the grant proposal's success likely is due to "Pathways Bradley," an existing program that seeks to address workforce skill shortages in the region and state by connecting students to real-world opportunities.

"Bradley Pathways will provide our students new ways to connect with business and industry through the unique partnerships," said Patti Hunt, grant coordinator for Bradley County Schools. "We are very appreciative to the community for working with us to provide educational and career opportunities for our students."

More than 33 community partnerships are represented in the grant, Hunt said.

"We are very encouraged by the grant announcement," said Gary Farlow, president and CEO of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. "Anything that helps our schools to prepare our students for jobs in the future is good for Bradley County."

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.