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In Lee County, education is economic development

Career and college readiness has been gaining ground in education due to changes in our economy and workforce. Educational systems have to be able to foresee the changes coming and strive to provide the skills and curriculum needed to adequately prepare students for a successful career and life after graduation.

In Lee County, we recognize the importance of career and college readiness for students. Our vision of every student graduating high school with more than a diploma has been the driving force in our implementation of exciting program options for students K-12. While we know we have much more work to do, we have seen substantial growth in our efforts to prepare our students for their future.

class of 2027 copy (1)Career and college readiness begins in elementary school. Most Lee County elementary schools have implemented The Leader in Me. The Leader in Me is intertwined with curriculum to help students learn skills to be successful in school and throughout life.

AVID began this year at the elementary level with a pilot program for fourth and fifth graders. AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and uses strategies to help students learn strong study habits and deeper thinking skills. AVID has also been very successful at the middle and high school levels, providing more challenging opportunities and inspiration for students to continue their education beyond high school. 

The middle schools offer STEM to students to help them explore and learn different aspects of science, technology, engineering, and math. The middle school years are when students are finding their interests and thinking about their future educational goals and careers.

Our high schools have been working hard to prepare students for future college and career opportunities. Lee Early College offers students the option to earn a high school diploma and an associate degree in five years. The school is a partnership with Central Carolina Community College. Students can earn an associate degree for free and get a head start to continue their education.

Both Lee County High School and Southern Lee High School have started academies through the National Academy Foundation (NAF). NAF academies offer career-specific curriculum that is taught along with the standard curriculum. Students start the academies in their freshman year. During their senior year, they can participate in internships with local businesses, providing the hands on experience and training to reinforce their class work. NAF Academies now offered are Hospitality & Tourism, Engineering, and Business & Finance.

A strong, well-funded statewide educational system that is able to adapt to economic changes will benefit every community in our state. It is a necessary investment to help North Carolina’s economy grow.

The high schools have also seen an expansion of career and technical education. There are currently 16 certifications offered for companies such as Microsoft (Excel and Access software, for example) and ServSafe (safe food handling, for example). A unique program between Caterpillar, Lee County Schools, and Central Carolina Community College allows juniors and seniors to both work and complete their last two years of school. Students in this program earn many certifications, including the North Carolina Department of Labor High School Apprenticeship Certification, Career Readiness Certification, and Welding Certification. They also get preferred employment opportunity with Caterpillar.

Rigorous high school courses are key to better prepare our students for college classes. The number of advance placement (AP) classes, classes that earn college credit, has greatly increased. That rigor is going a step further with Lee County High School working to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) school next fall.

Central Carolina Works is a regional program started this year at high schools in Lee, Harnett, and Chatham Counties in partnership with Central Carolina Community College. The program helps students learn of the opportunities available through the College and Career Promise Program for college classes during their junior and senior year. A counselor in every high school works with students to establish their educational plans and to explore dual enrollment options.

Career and college readiness will continue to gain momentum throughout the state. As North Carolina moves forward, we need to keep that momentum in mind as budgets are negotiated and policies are made. A strong, well-funded statewide educational system that is able to adapt to economic changes will benefit every community in our state. It is a necessary investment to help North Carolina’s economy grow. Education is economic development and that correlation needs to continually be recognized.

Tamara Brogan

Tamara Brogan is a former member of the Lee County Board of Education.  She is currently serving on the SAGA/ Chamber of Commerce Education and Workforce Development Committee and Central Carolina Works Advisory Committee. Tamara is the host of “Lee County Now,” a weekly radio show on education and current events and issues on WXKL 1290am. She lives in Sanford with her husband and five children.