Sutton Pathways

Ben Andres and Nate Andres use their computers during their business class Wednesday, May 1 at Sutton High School.

SUTTON — More and more eyes have been on Sutton Public Schools as the district progresses through its reVISION grant process and continues to build its career and technical education program.

Sutton recently submitted the application for its third and final school year in the reVISION grant program. In its first two years, Sutton received $99,432 out of a possible $100,000 for equipment and programming.

Brandy Thompson, Sutton secondary principal, said the school has been contacted by about 10 schools, wanting more information about reVISION and Sutton’s success with the program.

“We’re always willing to work with schools that come in and have questions,” she said. “We’re just really proud of the things we are doing.”

According to the Nebraska Department of Education, reVISION, offered through Nebraska Career Education, is a year-long process that provides Nebraska schools with the opportunity to analyze and transform their current career education systems to improve their ability to educate a qualified workforce that meets industry needs within an ever-changing economy.

Working in collaboration with postsecondary education and regional workforce and economic development leaders, the reVISION process links career educators, school administrators, school counselors and industry professionals.

Under the leadership of the Nebraska Department of Education and in partnership with the Nebraska departments of Labor and Economic Development, the reVISION process is a strategic approach for schools to analyze their current career education system and make plans, as needed, for adjustments.

Sutton was the 2018 recipient of the Nebraska Career Education Outstanding Secondary Program Award, sponsored by the Nebraska Department of Education.

Sutton began building its career and technical education program six years ago with a career pathway component that includes classes called career prep, introduction to internship and internship.

“We are a small school, and really the goal when we put our program in was to put our program in at a sustainable level where we didn’t increase our budget to a point where eventually you’d have to look at cuts because you couldn’t sustain it anymore,” Thompson said. “Really, everything we’ve done we’ve tried to do in a way that the program could sustain itself.”

One of the biggest recipients of the reVISION funds has been teacher Steve Ramer and the district’s industrial arts program, which received more than $57,000 for equipment.

“It really, truly needed it,” Thompson said.

Ramer said that new equipment provides students with the same modern, industry-grade equipment used in industry. It also gives students the opportunity to learn more computer-operated concepts seen in the workplace.

“So if our kids pique an interest in that, we have several businesses in the area that are always in need of those operators and it’s a high-end paying job,” he said.

The goal of Sutton’s career and technical education program is to provide opportunities for students to explore careers, build leadership and enhance knowledge.

Getting the program off the ground, Thompson and guidance counselor Sharon Zoucha contacted every business in Sutton — more than 100 businesses — to introduce the program and solicit internship opportunities for Sutton students. Of those businesses, 68 signed on to host students for internships.

“So 68 businesses wanted kids in their business, which is great,” Thompson said. “With 68 businesses, you maximize the number of all the different jobs they can hold.”

There were more positions than students available in Sutton.

Businesses also got involved in the career and technical education program in other ways in addition to the internship program.

Representatives from those businesses participate on the school’s career technical education advisory committee. Business representatives also help Sutton students with mock interview opportunities.

“It’s been a really nice community builder for all of us,” Thompson said.

The internship opportunities offered within Sutton’s career and technical education program have given students a chance to try fields they’re interested in and learn about opportunities.

“They make that decision about what college they want to attend, what their career is going to be ahead of time instead of making that change that happens in college,” Thompson said.

For instance, recent graduate Whitney Winter wrote a series of stories for the Clay County News about Sutton’s career and technical education program as part of an internship. She will work at the Clay County News this summer before attending Wayne State College in the fall, majoring in journalism.

“It’s great, being able to do what I love and learn to do what I want to do in the future,” she said.

Thompson said several Sutton students have had the opportunity to work in a similar capacity for the Clay County News, particularly covering sporting events.

“That does huge things for kids when they’re recognized for their work and they’re seeing the benefits of that,” she said.

In addition to her experiences with the Clay County News, Winter has been able to make a bookshelf and night stand table as well as coffee and TV tables using the new equipment in Ramer’s shop.

“It’s been a phenomenal experience,” she said. “All-new upgrades in the shop has allowed me to make such beautiful tables. It’s great to be able to go through a pathway and learn if I wanted to do something before actually going into it.”

Sutton’s internship program is financially advantageous for students who learn whether they want to pursue a career path before they even enter college and have the ability to earn discipline-specific scholarships.

Taylor Buescher, another recent graduate, received a scholarship from Chadron State College’s pre-dentistry program after shadowing dentists in a few different area clinics.

Learning from those dentists solidified in Buescher’s mind that she did indeed want to become a dentist herself.

“If I didn’t have that I just would be flying blind into a career,” she said.

Buescher, Winter and other Sutton students participating in the school’s internship program prepare a presentation about their experiences.  

“I’ve seen kids stand up in front of this class and talk for 15 minutes easy on their internship — and these are kids who struggle to stand up,” Thompson said. “They’re enthusiastic about it, and they’re passionate about it.”

Sutton’s family and consumer science, technology and business programs have benefited from reVISION and the district’s career and technical education program, and have given students a variety of opportunities.

Sutton’s agriculture program also benefited from the reVISION grant, providing the school with new welding equipment.

“Now the welding shop’s going to look way more like an actual welding shop, so the kids if they choose to go into welding then they’ll be a step ahead of everybody else once they get to the actual welding shop,” agriculture teacher Shawna Houdek said. “Then having all this new equipment gives them such a positive experience out there.”

New grow towers, in which lettuce plants were growing in early May, provided ag students learning experiences with hydroponics. Working with a fish tank has helped educate students about aquaponics.

“This lets kids see the new technology and the new advances in ag,” Houdek said. “You don’t have to just grow corn out in the field, you don’t have to just raise cows; trying to help kids expand their interests and see all the opportunities that are out there. Through the reVISION grant that’s been awesome. It’s been so helpful.”   

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