The Harper Woods School District’s College and Career Institute will  provide local students with new  opportunities when exploring their future education and job choices.

The Harper Woods School District’s College and Career Institute will provide local students with new opportunities when exploring their future education and job choices.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Harper Woods Schools creates College and Career Institute

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published May 9, 2019

 Harper Woods School District Superintendent Steven McGhee stands under an inspirational quote that hangs over the entrance of the district’s new College and Career Institute.

Harper Woods School District Superintendent Steven McGhee stands under an inspirational quote that hangs over the entrance of the district’s new College and Career Institute.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 College and Career Institute graphic arts instructor Victor Green demonstrates the facility’s digital press that students will use to create projects for real-world clients.

College and Career Institute graphic arts instructor Victor Green demonstrates the facility’s digital press that students will use to create projects for real-world clients.

HARPER WOODS — Harper Woods is showing off its recently completed College and Career Institute, a new career-based learning center at 20570 Kelly Road.

Administrators said the new facility is a big step for the district as it attempts to foster an environment where students can pursue a variety of successful paths, which may or may not involve college but will always involve a pathway to a stable and desired career.

“Career and technical education leads to a world of possibilities,” said CCI Coordinator Terri Gamlin. “It serves as a foundation for students, and we want them to learn that they can strive for excellence and not just ‘good enough.’”

The Harper Woods School District opened the building in April for test classes in which students from Harper Woods High School took classes in the new facility in one-hour blocks. In the fall, the building will begin regular classes consisting of one group of students attending classes for a block lasting two hours and 15 minutes in the morning, and another group attending a block of the same length in the afternoon, all bused over from the high school.

“Students can request to join classes here through their counselor,” Superintendent Steven McGhee said. “They need to ensure they will complete their state-mandated class requirements, although some of the classes here meet some of those requirements.”

Students will attend a variety of subjects, each of which is aimed at growing skills desired in the current and future job market and showing students how to realistically start an entrepreneurial business. Programs taught at the CCI include auto trades; computer systems networking; culinary arts; cybersecurity; graphic design; and radio, television and film.

“Students get a wide variety of opportunities. They then decide which career they want to focus on after they leave,” McGhee said. “In each course, you have the instructor and a (paraprofessional), so instead of a student-teacher ratio of 1:25, it’s really 1:12.”

Students will get direct, one-on-one advice from those who have succeeded in business.

“We also have a business incubator program in which business owners, entrepreneurs and investors will teach students how to make business plans and market them,” said McGhee. “They then pick ideas from the students through the Next Generation Readiness Group in a ‘Shark Tank’-like setting. It all adds up to teach them how to start their own business.”

Construction on phase two of the building will begin in January of 2020. This will include new facilities allowing for classes covering HVAC installation and repair, both residential and commercial plumbing and electrical trades, sports medicine, and physical therapy. These additions will not affect classes in the already completed portions.

“A key part of the attitude here is that we not only teach them professional skills, but also soft skills like people skills or how to collaborate as a team,” McGhee added. “Each section was selected not only based on interest, but also on demand in the job market. Cybersecurity is ranked No. 1 in job demand in the state, and computer systems networking is ranked No. 3. Both are opportunities students have the chance to learn here.”

The CCI can accommodate between 300 and 350 students per semester. The Harper Woods School District has been in discussions with neighboring school districts about allowing in students from other communities. McGhee estimated that this would result in a split of 80%-90% Harper Woods students and 10%-20% students from other districts. Students who meet the criteria will be selected to take part in the CCI program on a first-come, first-served basis. McGhee did stress that Harper Woods students would be given preference over students from other districts.

A key aspect of this type of career-based education is having students utilize what they learn in one section in other sections.

“The traditional educational model is that when you leave English class, you’re done with English for the day, but you still need to be able to communicate in science. English and writing is half of social studies. There’s math in science and vice-versa,” said McGhee. “Part of our attitude here is ensuring what you learn in one section carries over to other sections.”

McGhee also emphasized collaboration between students.

“One of the biggest things we stressed in the building design phase was an open environment,” McGhee said. “When you work, you collaborate, and what you work on affects those working with you. Businesses like Compuware, Google, United Way and Tech Town all use open environments, and that’s a factor in their success.” 

The district embracing career-based learning is a direct response to the changing job market and changing opportunities — or lack thereof — when students graduate and are trying to plan their futures.

“The switch toward more career-based learning is important,” Gamlin said. “It allows students to see career pathways for themselves as individuals and lets us find out what they want from life. We don’t push them into graphic design if what they’re really passionate about is culinary arts, for example.”

Gamlin said they have gotten stellar feedback from the students who have already taken part in the new CCI classes.

“Passion in education is listening to and learning from students,” said Gamlin. “You need to know they have their own goals in mind. … I’ve had students tell me this is their home away from home. One young woman told me the other day she feels different here. She said she feels she can grow here and express herself.”

Tours of the new building will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 13, and will be led by students who are currently attending the CCI. A reception will take place the following night from 5 to 8 p.m. to formally introduce the CCI to the community.

“We want to prepare students to create the jobs that don’t exist yet,” McGhee said. “We want to give them the knowledge, which they can use to jump off into something they create themselves.”

Call Staff Writer Brendan Losinski at (586) 498-1068.