As one of the 10 states selected in 2016 to participate in New Skills for Youth (NSFY)
, Rhode Island received $75 million to modernize its workforce and spur economic development in its regions. Leveraging NSFY, the state launched a robust cross-sectoral initiative, PrepareRI
, to restructure Rhode Island’s entire talent pipeline and strengthen connections across education and workforce systems.
PrepareRI’s expansive approach targets the entire continuum of talent development, from students as early as elementary school to adults already in the workforce. With the help of educators and employers throughout the state, PrepareRI aims to achieve four goals by 2020, including:
- Ensuring that all students have access to career exploration opportunities beginning in elementary and middle school, in addition to individual learning plans to support their unique strengths and development;
- Ensuring that all high school students have access to opportunities to earn college credit or an industry-recognized credential;
- Ensuring that all high school students have access to work-based learning (WBL) opportunities, such as internships and industry projects, in career fields relevant to their interests; and
- Ensuring state investments are aligned to pathway programs in high-demand career fields, including biomedical innovation, information technology and maritime industries.
Key partners on the PrepareRI initiative include the governor’s office, Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (RIDE), the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation. Governor Gina Raimondo’s involvement at the front and center of PrepareRI activities has been critical in fostering cross-sectoral collaboration and investments in workforce development at the local level. For example, under the Governor’s leadership, Rhode Island became the first state in the nation to offer computer science in every public school through the Computer Science for Rhode Island (CS4RI) initiative. In 2019, Gov. Raimondo also declared March as STEAM Month, reinforcing the state’s focus on STEAM learning in early grades.
To help implement new activities under PrepareRI, the Governor’s Workforce Board selected Skills for Rhode Island’s Future (SRIF) as a statewide career readiness intermediary. As the state’s intermediary, SRIF is responsible for engaging local employers, establishing career enrichment opportunities, and placing students in relevant WBL opportunities.
Policy In Action
With engagement from local industry leaders and policymakers, Rhode Island has successfully expanded high-quality career pathways and WBL experiences for high school students throughout the state. Implementation of the PrepareRI goals is being supported by the state’s NSFY ambassadors
— 22 local practitioners who help drive key parts of the PrepareRI agenda in partnership with the state. The ambassadors serve as the state leadership’s conduit to local activity and work to expand local education buy-in and community engagement in career pathway development. Ambassadors receive a stipend to implement specific projects in their communities, including establishing new WBL programs and encouraging students to pursue summer internships. Since 2015, Rhode Island has seen a 56 percent increase in the number of CTE programs, a 38 percent increase in Advanced Placement course participation, and a tripling of the number of college credits earned by high school students.
One of the first priorities for SRIF as the state intermediary was developing PrepareRI’s internship program. The program was launched in 2018 and currently offers paid summer internships to rising high school seniors across the state. More than 600 students applied for 162 internship openings, signaling a powerful interest in the program among the state’s high school student population. Through partnerships with local postsecondary institutions, all PrepareRI internship participants earned six credits by completing internship journals and assignments, which were validated by university faculty.
Furthermore, Rhode Island’s statewide course choice policy also impacted the early success of PrepareRI. Course choice enables students to earn college credit or industry-recognized credentials through dual enrollment, advanced placement (AP) or WBL opportunities at any school district, postsecondary institution or other eligible provider across the state. This policy significantly expanded access to valuable course options for learners across the state who otherwise would not have these opportunities in their home schools.
In early 2019, Governor Raimondo and RIDE launched XQ+RI, a partnership between the state and XQ — a leading organization dedicated to modernizing high school education. The partnership will provide the opportunity for every high school in the state to engage with stakeholders and design innovative ways to reach and engage future learners. Up to 20 schools will be eligible to receive planning grants worth a maximum of $25,000, and five of these schools will receive $500,000 to have their designs explored for potential scaling across the state. Rhode Island sees a key element of this initiative centered around students and local communities assuming an active role in framing and developing their school’s educational experience.