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Career pathways program at Mancos School District grows

Mancos High School senior Vanessa Poulsen and sophomore Teagan Archer prepare a drone for flight. (Courtesy Mancos School District)
High school students spend afternoons earning college credits and certificates to enter workforce

A student career and college program at the Mancos School District RE-6 is gaining momentum.

Mancos Explore Pathways puts high school students on track to gain workforce skills, college credits and career certificates in cooperation with Pueblo Community College Southwest.

Students take standard core education classes in the morning, then transition to career-focused classes that count toward college credit, said Superintendent Todd Cordrey in an interview with The Journal.

Program choices include health care, entrepreneurship, business, welding, drone aviation, culinary arts, health sciences and education.

This academic year, 130 students participated in the new Mancos Explore Pathways, launched in 2022, to emphasize concurrent college enrollment and job skill training.

In the 2020-2021 school year, 65 students participated in the school’s previous concurrent enrollment program.

“The benefits are real-life experience, certificates that set them up for good-paying jobs, and earning college credits while still in high school,” Cordrey said. “They can start a career at an early age, or get a reasonable wage working while they pursue higher education.”

The courses are all offered at the Mancos School campus and are taught by PCC instructors or district teachers who have received additional training.

“It is a really elite program that is open to every student at no cost,” Cordrey said. “Every (high school) student qualifies.”

Keeping the courses on campus is important because transportation can be a barrier for students if they had to go to the PCC campus, he said.

The school district receives funding from the Colorado Department of Education Rural CO-Action program to cover the Mancos Explore Pathways costs, estimated to be $200,000 per academic year, Cordrey said. Grants also help pay for the program.

The CDE funding, which is in addition to the regular school budget, covers the additional curriculum, certification testing, college tuition and all materials students need.

Mancos School District Superintendent Todd Cordrey
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis walks with Mancos Superintendent Todd Cordrey to the Performing Arts Center, where Polis spoke with students in May 2022. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)

In 2019, the Colorado Assembly and Gov. Jared Polis passed the Concurrent Enrollment Programs Act, which required all school districts to offer concurrent enrollment with institutes of higher education.

During the 2018-19 academic year, nearly 50,500 high school students participated in the tuition-free college, a 9% increase from the previous academic year, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

According to an article by Dr. K. Kevin Aten of the Colorado Schools Rural Alliance, the Mancos Explore Pathways aligns with Colorado Career and Technical Education programs, meaning students can continue their education within the Colorado Community College System through advanced certificates and associate degrees.

For students interested in a four-year college education, most of the courses are guaranteed to transfer, Aten stated. And all guaranteed transfer courses are accepted by all Colorado colleges and universities and other four-year universities.

“Students can graduate with two years of college already completed at no cost, and in the process have earned advanced certificates to qualify for good-paying jobs,” Cordrey told The Journal.

Mancos High School Junior Levi Manning enrolled in the health sciences pathway, according to the Colorado Rural Alliance article.

“Being a part of the medical pathways program has given me exposure to the medical field and has helped me refine what it is I want to do in the future,” he stated in the article. “I found the information useful in real-world scenarios. I also love that it has given me a head start toward college.”

Academic adviser Tiffany Aspromonte matches student interests to the Mancos Pathways Program.

“Students are excited to earn certificates while in high school,” she stated in the Colorado Rural Alliance article. “It helps them build skills to add to their resumes, setting them up for success after high school whether that be in college or in the workforce.”

For example, the drone aviation program at Mancos High School provides ready-made employment skills, Aten stated.

Drones are used in forest health, wildfire risk mitigation, real estate, construction, mining, filmmaking, journalism, agriculture, telecommunications the oil and gas industry and more, according to Andrew Hawk of Timber Age System Inc. of Durango as reported by Colorado Rural Alliance.

“No longer do we rely on fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters, we can use drones for specialized applications because the work can be done more quickly and more efficiently than using airplanes,” he stated in the article.

Sophomore Teagan Archer enrolled in the drone program.

She told Colorado Rural Alliance that the “program has been a cool experience because it allows me to get a certificate in a pathway that you may not have known about, before I am even out of high school,”

For more information on the Mancos Explore Pathways, visit the school website at www.mancosre6.edu or at Pueblo Community College Southwest, https://pueblocc.edu/southwest.

Dr. K. Kevin Aten from the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance contributed to this story.