Creating a Winning Triangle: Schools, Workforce & Community through Apprenticeships

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus, a career preparedness facility for high school students in the Cherry Creek School District, located just outside of Denver, Colo.

This visit was part of an AASA Youth Apprenticeship Summit, where superintendents joined me to get a firsthand look at engaged and motivated students pursuing potential pathways to gain the skills necessary to earn a portable credential in preparation for their next step, whether that was heading directly to college or entering the workforce.

That’s why, as part of National Apprenticeship Week (#NAW2020), we were so pleased to launch the AASA Expanded Pathways Youth Apprenticeship Toolkit, an online resource designed to encourage the creation of school and business partnerships to foster youth apprenticeships as a viable and expansive pathway to success in school, career and life. The toolkit, led by the AASA Children’s Programs Team, comes as a result of five site visits by AASA staff, plus two summits in Denver and Savannah.

(Click here to read the press release.)

The toolkit contains guidance, and best practices and processes to launch an apprenticeship program, including videos, case studies and other resources to provide school districts with the tools to start or expand youth apprenticeship programs. The timely resource is enhanced by follow-up interviews and conversations with leaders on youth apprenticeships in the COVID era.

We were proud to partner with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to raise awareness of youth apprenticeships as a resource for students, school districts, local businesses and communities. Michelle Mills, education programs lead with DOL, joined us at last week’s launch.

“We needed to partner with key strategic influencers such as The School Superintendents Association,” she said. “Superintendents are a critical partner in spreading the word, raising awareness (and) getting key influencers involved … in bridging the gap in helping to upscale the American workforce. Schools are a critical component, but it’s important for them to have those conversations with industry because you want to train students for jobs of the future.”

Scott Stump, assistant secretary for career, technical and adult education at the U.S. Department of Education, noted that the rate of youth participation in the labor force among 16-through-19-year-olds continues to decline. This alarming statistic tells us our toolkit comes at the right time.

“I am convinced as we move in this path, we’ve got to get students connected earlier,” he said. “I believe that it’s time for a call to action to reconnect students with the workplace earlier. We’ve got to provide these multiple pathways to young people across the country. We must embrace apprenticeship as educators. It’s the oldest way of education and training that our world has known.”

Scott Siegfried is the superintendent of Cherry Creek School District: “Youth apprenticeships really fit into a larger vision we have – it’s our continued evolution from that old ‘college for all’ mindset to ‘college and career.’ Now we’re really focusing on a pathway of purpose for every single student. Whether it’s a two-year college, four-year college, straight to career and apprenticeship or military, it’s our job to ensure that we have all those opportunities available for our kids to find future success.”

No one would disagree that the most important component of any apprenticeship program begins with students. We were fortunate to have two active apprentices join us at our toolkit unveiling. They were:

  • Natanael Navarro, a senior at John F. Kennedy High School, Denver Public Schools, who is working with Vectra Bank of Colorado as a client services associate.
  • Naarai Navarro, a 2020 graduate of John F. Kennedy High School, who is continuing her apprenticeship at Pinnacol Assurance as a member of the company’s marketing team while working toward her college degree.

Apprenticeships are an underutilized educational and workforce strategy with a proven value that has been successfully implemented by school districts around the country. If you would like to create a pathway for students who would follow their passion and learn a trade while they’re in high school, please let us know how we can help.

To find out more, please click here to access the Expanded Pathways Youth Apprenticeship Toolkit.

For additional questions, please contact Stephanie St. John at

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.