PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WSAZ) -- A new program is giving students in Pike County the opportunity to get hands-on learning beyond the classroom, all while working to understand the expectations when it comes to entering the work force.
The three-year grant will help launch an apprenticeship program for high school students in the Pikeville Independent and Pike County School System.
The Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet announced the Kentucky Advanced Technical College High (K-TECH) program, the state's college-high school apprenticeship program, in partnership with the Big Sandy Community & Technical College, Pikeville Medical Center, the Pike County School System and Pikeville Independent School System.
According to Derrick Ramsey, the Secretary of Education and Workforce Development for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, this program allows students to earn a high school diploma while working to earn an associate degree at the same time.
"With this, they get an opportunity to work while getting an education," Ramsey said.
The $627,000 Pathways to STEM Apprenticeship grant is a three-year grant, which will involve an apprenticeship program in the school system and will focus on healthcare and information technologies.
K-TECH provides students in grades 9-12 with traditional high school subjects, as well as an advance STEM curriculum developed by local business and industry partners.
Through the program, students will have the opportunity to meet potential employers, take dual credit course work, receive soft skills training and participate in paid apprenticeships.
"They start as a freshman in high school, starting to take preparatory courses understanding what is going to be required of them," Ramsey said. "As a sophomore, they then start taking college courses while picking up a mentor. The mentor plays a critical role. At the end of the day, they earn an associates degree while getting different pathways. For example, if they are interested in becoming a CNA, with that pathway, you go from a CNA, to an LPN, to an RN, and in some cases if you like, to an MD. What we are doing is giving young people an opportunity to see there is a pathway and see there is opportunity to take care of themselves, their families and have a great career."
Ramsey says this program is doing much more than just opening doors for students in the county.
"I would say more like doors are going to be kicked down because so frequently with young people, and I hear it all the time as I travel around the state, well there are no jobs, Secretary," Ramsey said. "I am here to tell you today that in the Commonwealth, there's 153,000 open jobs. So there are plenty of jobs, and we need people."
Ramsey says several weeks ago, he was talking with Pikeville Medical Center's CEO Donovan Blackburn about ways they can fill vacancies at the hospital.
"I just so happen to carry around in my pocket an apprenticeship," Ramsey said. "In this case it's called K-TECH. This is a new concept where a young person, while getting a high school diploma, also gets an associate degree while also learning some working skills."
Blackburn says with around 150 vacancies at the hospital, the hope is that this program will get more students interested in a career in the health care field and will encourage students to stay in the county to work.
"It's not just about educating them and it's not just about allowing them to graduate debt-free with an associates," Blackburn said. "It's about being able to provide a quality product and provide for their family and stay in the region that they grew up in."
Both the superintendent for the Pike County School System and the superintendent for the Pikeville Independent School System says the county has lost students over the last several years due to the downturn in the coal industry. Both are hoping that with this new program, it will encourage students and their families to want to stay in Pike County.
"With this new career pathway, our hope is that we can retain these good people, these good students," said Reed Adkins, superintendent of the Pike County School System.
The program will help to place at least 100 high school students in Kentucky into paid apprenticeships during the next three years.
The goal of the program is to equip students with the tools they need to succeed in school to further their education and excel in the workplace and extend education beyond secondary school for young people.