Not long ago, community leaders in Greeley, Colorado, were worried: High school students were scoring below average on state exams, and the dropout rate was high.
Greely-Evans school district serves more than 21,000 students, with almost 10,000 in 10 different high schools, says Geri Anderson, special assistant to the president for external affairs at Aims Community College (ACC). Many of those students are English language learners and receive free and reduced lunch, she says.
“To prosper, we need a well-prepared workforce,” says Anderson. “We needed to do something.”
In response to growing concerns, Aims Community College, Greeley elected officials, the business community and the Greeley-Evans school district banded together to initiate the G-Town Promise. The purpose of this coalition is to address college-readiness issues and career-pathway development for Greeley’s students beginning in eighth grade and continuing throughout their secondary education.
Through several components, including career planning and internships, mentoring programs, support for in-school and extracurricular activities and funding for postsecondary education, G-Town Promise is committed to helping students succeed.
Start readiness programs early and follow through
Though the G-Town promise primarily focuses on high school students, in eighth grade, students begin to build an individual career and academic plan, ICAP, with the support and guidance of educators, industry partners and pre-collegiate groups, Anderson says. Students learn how to “discover their interests, plan intentionally and build pathways to success for life after high school,” she says. “By adopting research-based best practices and our knowledge for developmentally appropriate ICAP activities, Greeley students use their ICAP to decide if they want to attend one of the career academies in high school, enroll in the early college high school, IB program or attend a traditional high school.”
Once in high school, juniors and seniors may participate in Career Academies through a unique partnership between the school district and ACC. In addition to their regular high school classes, students choose from about 14 different academies, including health care, education, business and agriculture. Students also attend ACC to take coursework and participate in internships that will ultimately result in a CTE for that field of study.
“So when they graduate from high school they will have a certificate that will lead either to an associate degree, if they choose to go on, or to enter an entry-level job,” Anderson says.
To ensure safe transport of the students between the high schools and the college, ACC administrators purchased a bus and gave it to the school district. “It’s a good indication of how everyone is trying to participate in the partnership,” Anderson says.
Investing money where it matters
For many of Greeley’s students, access to transportation is a problem, so city officials now provide free bus passes to all students, enabling them to participate in extracurricular activities, athletics and clubs. The bus passes also help students get to after-school jobs and internships.
“This is a great example of business leaders talking and figuring out why kids aren’t doing activities,” Anderson says. Transportation is no longer a barrier for them.
Creating college pathways
The College Promise Scholarship program, funded by local businesses in Weld County, guarantees that Greeley-Evans students who graduate from high school can attend ACC tuition-free.
Another pathway provides students who plan to attend a four-year institution the opportunity to simultaneously earn their high school and associate degrees through the Early College Academy. The college credits earned are transferable to other Colorado colleges and universities and are tuition-free for the students and their families.
As an incentive, the Weld County commissioner passed legislation that provides tax benefits to property owners who contribute to the college scholarship fund to support grants for Greely students, Anderson says.
More than 97 percent of the students who complete a technical or career credential at ACC either successfully find employment, continue with their education, join the military or enter apprenticeship programs, Anderson says.
“Kids that didn’t see college as a possibility now do, and that’s huge,” Anderson says. “This changes their lives and their families’ lives for generations.”
The G-Town Promise happened quickly and is “just picking up steam as it goes,” says Anderson, but ACC is up for the challenge. “It was about being prepared to grow fast and scale up.”
One of the college’s roles is to design programs that meet the needs of business and industry. Oil and gas is one example, Anderson says, and ACC has the “best equipment and well-prepared faculty” to improve students’ educational experience and prepare them to enter that field, she adds.
“When the community comes together and says our youth is our most valuable resource, we have to commit money and plans toward investing in them,” Anderson says.