River Valley Invited to White House for Career-Readiness Initiatives

The White House recently recognized River Valley School District for the district’s efforts in advancing career-driven education and workforce development.

The United States Department of Education (DOE) invited River Valley School District to join the Rural Community of Practice initiative to serve as a model district for other U.S. schools to “prepare students to thrive in their future careers.”

“They want us to take this practice to all the other rural schools,” said Philip Martell, River Valley superintendent. “I’ve got to give credit to the Biden administration because they have identified this as a need in our country and really rural schools, rural areas. … Now, we’re going to help (other school districts) by leading the way to creating workforce pathways and career opportunities.”

River Valley is one of 11 school districts asked to join the Rural Community of Practice initiative. School board president Rick Harper, assistant to the superintendent Regina Geesey and career consultant Jeff Geesey represented River Valley at the White House.

The purpose of the nationwide initiative is to develop multiple pathways to prepare students for their future careers as well as connect leaders in education, commerce and government to help achieve that goal.

“The Rural Community of Practice will create multiple pathways to success and provide a setting for influential leaders to collaborate on the four keys to unlocking career success: dual enrollment, work-based learning, workforce credentials and career advising and navigation,” the River Valley news release said. “The Rural Community of Practice convened at the White House to recognize school districts advancing competency-based education and career experiences in emerging, innovative industries such as biotechnology, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing.”

River Valley has taken a multifaceted approach in preparing students for their future careers, according to Martell. The district starts working on career pathways early by talking with students and their parents about their strengths, differences and values.

“We’re having conversations with students starting in kindergarten about their potential career pathways,” Martell said. “It’s important we start having those conversations (with students and parents) earlier on because we want our students to understand what their strengths, interests and values are.” Based on those conversations as well as opportunities in the U.S. workforce, the district tailors curriculum to fit student and workforce needs, Martell said. Part of that process involves utilizing the World of Work framework, a comprehensive K-12 curriculum solution focused on early childhood exposure to career and self-exploration, according to the World of Work website.

Martell said. “It’s important we start having those conversations (with students and parents) earlier on because we want our students to understand what their strengths, interests and values are.”

“The district’s implementation of the World of Work framework integrates early career exploration beginning in kindergarten,” Martell said. “This initiative paired with the opening of the River Valley STEAM Academy are bridging the gap between industry and workforce education that is critical to student success in today’s economy. “It’s an honor to earn this distinction and join the Rural Community of Practice where we can advance students for their future careers and implement career-related learning in school.”

Martell cited the district’s STEAM Academy as one of the primary reasons River Valley was selected for the Rural Community of Practice initiative. River Valley’s STEAM Academy, which opened in August 2022 on the district’s Saltsburg campus, is a new addition to the district’s curriculum and open to students grades 6-12. The STEAM Academy offers a multi-tiered cybersecurity course with industry certifications; an eSports course and lab affiliated with the North America Scholastic Esports Federation; an electrical occupations program; and a sports medicine and rehabilitative therapy program that will teach students to be athletic trainers, physical therapists, occupational therapists and more.

In January, the school board approved adding four main areas of study to the STEAM Academy, including agriculture, powerline, teacher education and welding technology courses. And in April, the school board approved adding pathways to health professions and biomedical technology to the STEAM Academy’s workforce development programs.

“All the programs at the STEAM Academy have some kind of industry credential or certification attached to it,” Martell said. “Not everyone can say that.” As part of the Rural Community of Practice initiative, the DOE selected 13 districts across the U.S., from Hawaii to Alaska, to work with River Valley and model the district’s concept of developing career pathways early with students. River Valley’s White House recognition was the second national recognition the district has earned in 2023. The AASA (School Superintendent Association), in partnership with the Successful Practices Network and Battelle for Kids, recognized River Valley as a national “Lighthouse” school system May 17.

River Valley was among six school districts across the nation to receive the recognition, which was meant to highlight school systems that “serve as models of positive change in public education.

“River Valley School District is making great strides in developing K-12 career pathway opportunities and creating programs that prepare students to thrive in their futures,” Harper said. “Earning national recognition for the second time this school year is an honor, and we look forward to continuing to open doors to new opportunities and partnerships for our students.”