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State to double size of high school career prep programs in 2016

Annie Ropeik/Delaware Public Media
Gov. Jack Markell and the Dept. of Education's Luke Rhine (right) answer questions from Dover High School students, some in blue chef's coats from their culinary arts class, about new career preparatory tracks.

 The state Department of Education is expanding its career preparatory offerings for Delaware high school students next academic year.

The state is nearly doubling the Pathways to Prosperity tracks that were offered from this year, the first for the program. They're putting $600,000 behind 55 total pathways programs in 29 high schools.

In a lecture hall at Dover High School on Monday, Gov. Jack Markell told a group of students scribbling down notes about the possible uses of one new track: the Academy of Finance, which will teach students accounting and financial planner skills.

"There's a whole career out there -- they're called financial planners. And what they do is they help people manage their financial lives, like -- sometimes people find it really difficult to save anything at all," Markell said. "And sometimes with some outside help, people can help you identify, well, maybe you shouldn't spending money on this and this and this, so if you save it, you're actually going to be in a position to put a down payment on a house."

Students in Finance will learn skills like those, and about accounting and investing. And they'll earn college credit toward related programs at schools like Del Tech.

"I was, like, 22 before I took my first accounting class, and it was in business school, because the college I went to didn't offer it, and it was hard," Markell said. "But if you start learning it when you're a junior in high school, it's awesome. … You are going to be a big step ahead, whether you go to college and want to continue your major or if you want to go into the workforce."

The other new tracks next year are health care and computer networking. Luke Rhine heads up STEM programs for the state Dept. of Education, and he told the Dover students that every pathway is meant to connect them directly with jobs.

"So making sure that you have the opportunity to participate in a rich curriculum that helps you build the skills necessary to be successful in a career," Rhine said, "but also working with our employers to take you on -- take you on as a paid intern, take you on as an intern, so that you develop that work experience, you become acclimated to the culture of work."

That's been going on for a year already in five pathways: manufacturing, computer science and IT, engineering, biomedical sciences and culinary arts and hospitality.

Cassidy Bennetti is a junior in the culinary program at Dover. She and some fellow students took a break from their culinary class -- all still wearing their blue chefs' coats -- to hear the governor speak.

Bennetti isn't sure if she'll keep studying culinary arts in college, but she says it's been worth her time anyway:

"I mean, I'm definitely interested in it," she said. "But I think that either way, culinary is just giving me good opportunities in life with jobs for now. And also, learning how to cook is really important."

That kind of enrichment is exactly what the state hopes more students will find next year.

See the full list of new programs and schools here.

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