Students can earn an associate's degree during their four years in high school through a new program starting this year at two Austin schools.
Career Launch is a partnership between the Austin Independent School District and local companies. Students at Reagan Early College High School and LBJ High will take classes through Austin Community College in one of two areas: cybersecurity and computer science or health science.
In preparation for the new program, Reagan renovated three former classrooms into a technology workspace. Assistant Principal Kevin Garcia says the new space won’t look like a high school classroom; it’ll look like the workspace at a professional tech company.
“When you walk inside there, you’ll see spaces where you can gather with two to three people or gather with 20 to 30 individuals and brainstorm," he says. "You’re going to see a lot of technology. I mean, with our focus on cybersecurity and computer science, you’re going to see 42-, 72-inch screens on the walls that you can throw up images on."
The Career Launch program starts today at Reagan and LBJ. Reagan’s program focuses on technology. LBJ students will focus on health science and earn an associate’s degree in a medical field. Seton Healthcare is providing support and mentors to the students at LBJ; Dell Technologies is doing the same at Reagan.
“What mentorship is best able to provide is just hope bridge why that’s important and why that matters," says Jeremy Ford, a director of corporate giving at Dell who helped develop this program. "Basically bring the relevance to what can be kind of flat content.”
Besides giving examples of how these computer science classes apply to a real job, Garcia says, this mentoring is crucial to getting students excited about a potential career.
“We’re actually setting up trips so that our students can actually go to Dell and not just see that we’re talking about this in the classroom. We’re living what we’re talking about," he says. "They’ll be able to see how the exposure we've created for them and the environment we’ve created for them is going to look almost identical to what Dell has."
Ford says the program sets up graduates to either keep pursuing a technology degree at a four-year college or gives them the skills to jump into an entry-level cybersecurity job. He says Dell’s goal for the program is to diversify the tech industry. That’s why it chose Reagan high school, which has a mostly minority population, as well as students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
“That’s the type of diversity that we need in computer science and applied science to really open up the full value of opportunity,” Ford says.
As an educator and someone interested in computers himself, Garcia says he hopes his students appreciate this opportunity.
“There wasn’t these types of classes when I was in school, you know, so I’m jealous of the kids," he says. "I’m jealous of what they’re getting in terms of renovation, in terms of being able to have their own laptop given to them by the district and just working in that environment. I’m like – Man, I want to be in there with them!”
Each program will have 50-75 students starting at the freshman level this year.