Union program prepares students for the future

by Beth Camplain | Jun 27, 2017
Peoria Federation of Teachers partnership has helped 343 high school students (to date) take college-level classes to further their career goals.

^ Randi Weingarten accepts a proclamation from Mayor Jim Ardis for the union’s support of the Peoria Pathways to Prosperity initiative.

In a U.S. economy where unemployment stands around 5 percent, employers and educators lament the “skills gap,” or shortage of skilled workers to fill existing jobs. That’s why in 2015, the Peoria Federation of Teachers (Local 780) set out to change that through their Peoria Pathways to Prosperity (PP2P) initiative.
The union’s PP2P program is a partnership between the local, city of Peoria, businesses, and higher education. It recognizes that a four-year college degree is not necessarily the pathway to success for every student. For many students, Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are stepping stones to future careers. That’s why PP2P started by studying the CTE challenges facing Peoria students.
The findings revealed a greater need to align classroom curriculum to occupations, as well as to encourage private sector businesses to support career-development opportunities and education programs for high school students.

To bolster the groundbreaking program, PFT President Jeff Adkins-Dutro applied for an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Innovation Fund grant. With the funds, PP2P hired a full-time coordinator dedicated to creating new CTE opportunities.

In March, AFT President Randi Weingarten and IFT President Dan Montgomery joined union members, students, and other stakeholders in Peoria to announce a national union resolution about the critical need for CTE programs like PP2P and to award a second AFT grant to the program. The funds will be used to help students access of variety of employment options, including careers in healthcare, cosmetology, culinary arts, construction trades, emergency medical services, and other programs available through Woodruff Career and Technical Academy and Peoria North, an alternative school setting for high school students.

“When we say there should be a ladder of opportunity, we actually have to create the rungs on that ladder,” said Weingarten in her remarks to Peoria students, teachers, and business leaders. “It’s the collaboration with teachers and principals, with a union and an administration, with employers and colleges and the city and the district that makes the program a success…Thank you for being a model to the country.”

Through this nationally-acclaimed partnership, the union is building a powerful CTE network that benefits students and the community. To date, PP2P has helped 20 students receive internships at 10 local businesses, coordinated career-education information at Woodruff and other schools, and helped 343 high school students take college-level classes to further their career goals.

“Peoria Pathways has created opportunities for our students by providing high-quality internships in careers that show an immediate or a future shortfall of employees. Students gain valuable skills during the internship and employers train valuable future employees,” said Adkins-Dutro.
“We are proud that the AFT and IFT are helping our local invest in this important work that is improving our students’ futures and helping our community.”