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Cleveland City Council approves $2.1 million for career-exploration at Cleveland schools

Magnet HQ Cleveland Foundation Advanced Manufacturing Floor
Roger Mastroianni
MAGNET’s Cleveland Foundation Advanced Manufacturing Floor, inside its new manufacturing hub in Cleveland. Visits to MAGNET - a Cleveland-based manufacturing consulting organization - are part of the CMSD's relatively new PACE career-exploration initiative.

Cleveland City Council Monday night approved $2.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to expand a career-planning program at Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District launched PACE, or Planning and Career Exploration, in November 2021, a group of presenters told Cleveland City Council during a committee meeting Monday, and it’s been expanding ever since.

Outgoing CMSD CEO Eric Gordon told Council’s Finance, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee that the district is providing for a wide variety of in-school and out-of-school career exploration experiences for students in sixth through 12th grades that have been ramping up since 2021. In the earlier grades, that could be trips to places like MAGNET's manufacturing hub (MAGNET is a Cleveland-based manufacturing consulting organization), or even to NASA's Glenn Research Center to explore aeronautics industries, paired with chats with career advisers in middle school.

“Then from there, all students, students start to self-select where they might be interested in jobs, where they might be interested in internships, apprenticeships and that sort of thing,” he said.

Autumn Russell, executive director of the Greater Cleveland Career Consortium, explained that her organization was formed in 2022 in tandem with the roll-out of PACE, with the consortium being seen as a collaborative effort to help every student in the region settle on a plan for a job they could “sustain a family with.”

She said students are getting help finding their future careers with help from CMSD educators, nonprofit partners and employers themselves.

This is not before or after school or on the weekends. It's in class," she said. "It's out-of-school experience with employers and it's active career advising. We also seek to break down silos between our partners to help employers and nonprofits be more deeply engaged, with each other and with students.”

The idea, Russell and the other presenters said, is for all students to graduate with a solid plan to pursue a four-year degree, a two-year degree, an apprenticeship or a trade job, he said.

Helen Williams, program director for education at the Cleveland Foundation, said the $2.1 million request represents the city’s buy-in to help the program be rolled out fully across all grade-levels and schools. She said a variety of partners, the Foundation included, have already raised about $50 million for the program to use over the next three or so years, but additional fundraising is still needed with the district and funders looking to the state of Ohio to provide a more permanent source of money for career-exploration in schools. She said PACE is a curriculum that’s already in every CMSD school building, but it needs more support to boost its impact.

“It will mean the difference between whether every grade level gets it,” she said. “They get the full complement, where we’re able to stand up the employee and workforce experiences.”

Gordon said the district is trying to focus on providing job experiences in industries that have shown a “high opportunity for growth” in northeast Ohio, including health care, manufacturing, I.T. (information technology), the arts, education, STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and math), agriculture, finance, culinary services, armed forces and law and public safety.

Councilman Mike Polensek said the district had made a serious error in the past in putting the bulk of its support in encouraging students to go to college to get a traditional four-year degree rather than encouraging them in a variety of career paths. He said he’s seen people leaving the CMSD schools in his ward for years now.

I saw a school system that once produced graduates that could go on and support themselves and their families going to college or trade schools or great businesses,” Polensek said. “And then I saw that evaporate.”

He said he would be watching the program “closely,” in part because he and others on council for years have wanted CMSD to embrace vocational training to prepare students for life after school.

Williams and the other presenters said the goal is to extend the program to 10 other school districts in Cuyahoga County starting later this year, using funding from Cuyahoga County, although they did not specify which districts.

Gordon said the school district has also invested $9.3 million in its own pandemic-relief funds to modernize its libraries to become “community, college and career centers” that will provide space for students to actively get the career counseling they need.

So far, the district has held 1,500 career-advising sessions with several for each grade in each building since November 2021, Gordon said, in addition to multiple trips with 500-plus students per-trip to places job hubs like NASA and MAGNET, as mentioned previously, or career camps through Verizon, with more on the way.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.