Everyone who lives in Davie County knows what a special place it is. Soon other communities around the country will know it as well. Last month, the National Civic League selected Davie County as a finalist for this year’s All-America City Award. We will now compete against 19 other communities in Denver, Colorado, June 9-11, 2023.
This year’s theme is “Creating Thriving Communities through Youth Engagement.” The 2023 award seeks to identify communities that are breaking down barriers to meaningful youth participation and enacting programs that will improve the quality of life for youth and, by extension, all members of the community. Davie County’s application focuses on youth programs that build the civic capacity of young people, increase job readiness and employment opportunities and provide leadership opportunities.
This is the fourth in a series of articles that will be published each Tuesday, sharing a different portion of Davie County’s All-America City Award application. While the application was compiled by a team of county and municipal representatives and community leaders, the story is about all of us. As you read, you will revel in Davie County’s accomplishments and learn more about innovative programs in your own backyard. Take a bow Davie County; you have much to be proud of.
Describe your best projects or programs that have a compelling community-wide vision and have resulted in significant local impact and action planning within the past five years. Since the theme this year focuses on youth engagement, we opted to submit all powerful youth-related programs. These programs were evaluated based on a shared vision, civic engagement, inclusiveness and equity, collaboration, innovation, and impact. This week focuses on Davie Works.
Davie County is proud of its rural agricultural history and blue-collar manufacturing roots. But we also know that Davie County is transitioning to a high-tech manufacturing and logistics hub where trends show that 67% of jobs will need more than a high school education for both youth and adult workers to be successful. This means that Davie County stakeholders must inspire, educate, equip, and train students as one of its core strategies for success. No individual organization or program holds the key to that success. Only when we engage the private sector, educators, government, and nonprofits can we truly affect change. The partnership developed in Davie County to prepare youth for life after high school is informally known as Davie Works. While a great deal of attention will be focused on Davie High School’s Career and Technical Education Program (CTE), it is important to note how this program is enhanced by DavieCONNECT, which organizes Manufacturing Days, internships and externships, and Career and College Promise (CCP) which provides additional career opportunities for high school students on the campus of Davidson-Davie Community College (DDCC).
Davie County is fortunate to have one high school to serve our entire student population. Davie County High School (DCHS) is not forced to be limited to a “theme” as many high schools in other communities must do or send students to an off-campus career center. The result is an impressive array of resources to benefit all our students regardless of background, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. The wellspring of these resources at DCHS is the Career and Technical Education Program (CTE).
The Davie County School System (DCS) and CTE program aim to equip students with the tools they need to succeed in all future endeavors, whether pursuing a university education, attending a technical school, joining the military, or going directly into the workforce. One of the strengths of CTE is that it begins at the middle school level with exploratory courses so young people can sample and find what sparks their passion. These glimpses into possible career paths can help them to focus their studies once they reach DCHS and result in true curriculum relevance.
If CTE is the main course of a meal, then DavieCONNECT is the perfect side dish. This “force multiplying” initiative was launched in 2018 by the Davie County Economic Development Commission (DCEDC). They realized that Davie County was a victim of its success in attracting over 1200 jobs and 111 million in investment since 2013. The need for both a skilled workforce and educators familiar with the opportunities in the community for youth was essential. Through strong partnerships with business and industry, DCS, and Davidson-Davie Community College (DDCC), several programs were developed to connect employers to students to provide career awareness, onsite tours, work-based learning opportunities, post-secondary education opportunities, and pathways to 21st-century careers. DavieCONNECT hosts programs like Manufacturing Day tours for middle school students and a Teacher Summer Externship program to provide in-depth tours of business and industry to “teach our teachers” about our local businesses community, their employment needs, and career opportunities. These initiatives help foster strong relationships between our schools and local businesses.
Our school district prides itself on our Career and Technical Education program and its role in meeting our community’s needs by providing a skilled workforce. The CTE staff and educators are dedicated and determined to equip and empower all students with the skills they need to succeed. For many staff members in the CTE department, this mission is personal, as they were once DCHS students themselves. There is an increased sense of community among educators who have returned to their hometowns with the goal of providing opportunities they wish they’d had as a student. CTE staff and educators also work diligently to learn about opportunities in our community so they can effectively communicate these to students. Davie County is proud to be a hot spot in the global industry with companies from Germany, Israel, the United Kingdom, China, and Dubai, among others. Every year CTE staff and educators participate in DavieCONNECT “Externships,” donning construction hats, steel-toe boots, sterile suits, or whatever is required to get up close and personal with the products and manufacturing processes used by businesses in our community. These visits end with conversations with employers to bridge the gap between the caliber of students Davie County Schools is producing and the employees that our industries are desperately searching to find. Through these experiences, CTE educators and staff are well-equipped to engage students in meaningful conversations about opportunities in our community. Companies are eager to keep talent produced in our school systems within our county, which is another community strategic goal.
While there is no replacement for dedicated educators, a great CTE program also needs the proper equipment and resources. This is another area of strength for DCSCTE. In addition to the basics, including computer labs and smart classroom technology, our students enjoy an impressive array of resources. Culinary students have access to professional-grade kitchens, engineering classes house multiple 3D printers, automotive students can service vehicles in the fully equipped, seven-bay garage, construction students have a full wood-working shop and masonry lab, and agriculture students can care for livestock in a “working farm” barn. These resources are onsite, so instructional time is maximized. As the manufacturing community evolves in Davie County, the CTE program is changing to meet the need, recently adding a CNC plasma cutter, welding lab, and machining equipment.
Another advantage of the CTE program is its wide array of offerings. The DCSCTE program offers 14 Career Clusters, 27 CTE Career Pathways, and over fifty individual courses. Embedded within these offerings is the opportunity to earn industry-recognized credentials, ranging from Microsoft programs to CAD software, as well as certifications in the automotive, construction, and agricultural sectors. Students earned 1,927 credentials in the 2021-2022 school year, placing DCHS CTE at #4 in North Carolina for credentials earned based on potential and in the top 10 for percentages of credentials earned based on enrollment. These credentials are building student resumes, enhancing college applications, and distinguishing our students above others in an increasingly competitive job market and post-secondary education environment. We recently enhanced our already robust CTE offerings and credentialing opportunities through a partnership with DDCC. Students will now be able to complete CTE pathways in course areas DCHS cannot host on campus. These include nurse assisting, emergency services, firefighting, and more. Anny Jimenez is a wonderful example of a student maximizing opportunities through CTE and CCP programs. She completed the Health Science pathway at DCHS and then took Emergency Services classes through DDCC, opening the door for an internship with Davie County Emergency Services and potential full-time employment once she reaches the age of 18. This valuable collaboration allows students personal tours, use of facilities and resources, partnership projects, and class availability. Even though the Davie Works umbrella of CTE, DavieCONNECT, and CCP partnerships provides many opportunities already, our educators and staff are constantly brainstorming ways to improve the experience for our students and fellow stakeholders.
Davie Works prides itself on experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. Here is where the DavieCONNECT internship program shines. Davie County is home to Ashley Furniture Industries, the largest furniture manufacturer in the world. The Davie County plant is a 4.4 million SF state-of-the-art factory. What value could high school interns have to this company? More than you would imagine! CTE drafting student Tanner Rouse’s mattress racking system is used at an Ashley plant in Mississippi. That is an impressive accomplishment on any college application, and Ashley is keen to develop young people like Tanner. Internships connect Davie County companies directly to CTE students. Whether this leads to a paid internship, paid apprenticeship, or a job offer at graduation, it provides real-world experience to enhance the educational experience.
Seventy-one percent (71%) of DCHS students choose to take a CTE course. While this is a compelling student endorsement, we know we also have a duty to track outcomes. For instance, we know that students are taking advantage of CTE offerings at nearly the same rate as their racial, ethnic, and gender peers in the larger DCHS population. The most significant difference is gender, with females underrepresented by 9.5%. Hispanic and African-American CTE student representation is 0.5% higher for Hispanics and 0.92% lower for African-Americans. So we know that basic CTE programming is serving all segments of our student population. Perhaps the most impressive fact we have found is that CTE-engaged students are less likely to drop out of high school. The high school graduation rate for DCHS is 87%, slightly above the 86% rate for North Carolina. However, DCHS students who take a 2nd level CTE course (CTE Concentrator) have a 98% graduation rate. CTE Concentrators, however, are a much less diverse group based on gender, with only 36.9% of females participating at this level. Hispanic students participate at this level at a slightly lower rate (0.6%), while African-American CTE Concentrators are 3.7% less likely to participate at this level. White CTE Concentrators are overrepresented by 4.9%. While these statistics need further study, it appears that the CTE program both prepares students for 21st-century careers and, for many, ensures high school graduation.
The opportunities and skills students leverage through Davie Works, including CTE, DavieCONNECT, and CCP, are equipping them to succeed in regional, state, and national competitions, too. For example, Anna Lowery, a student in the senior class of 2023, competed in Atlanta, Georgia, on the SkillsUSA National stage, placing 8th in the nation in identifying medical terminology. The CTE and EMT classes and her experiences through this program have given her a solid foundation for her future in the medical field. Student Bailey Dyson, class of 2022, has won numerous local, regional, and state awards through DCHS’s chapter of Future Farmers of America (FFA). She began as a member, transitioned into the chapter president, and is now pursuing a university degree in Animal Science and Agriculture.
State Education Superintendent, Catherine Truitt, visited the DCHS campus in October 2022 and stated the following: “I’ve seen really impressive CTE programs across the state, but after seeing Davie County High’s program in person, I’m a firm believer that they should be a model for career and technical education across the state. The wide variety of options they provide to students, from auto repair to ag mechanics, is incredible, as there is truly something for everyone. It’s exactly the type of hands-on and work-based learning opportunities I am hopeful that all North Carolina students have the chance to experience before graduating and entering the real world.” Superintendent Truitt’s comments strike the heart of our intent to educate and train a competitive high-tech workforce in Davie County and provide the skills our students need to secure well-paying jobs successfully.
In addition to being a key partner, CTE is also an active force in our community. CTE participates in local events throughout the community, like parades, sporting events, and volunteer events. In addition to assisting with local community events, the CTE student organizations also host their own events. Their car and tractor show takes place on campus, bringing in entrants from across North Carolina and beyond state lines, and “Careers on Wheels” allows younger children to interact with the vehicles of industry, facilitating career exploration at a young age. These events bring attention to the CTE program and all the opportunities available to students in the district.
As a candidate for the All-America City, Davie Works programs bridge the gap between community and classroom. Davie Works brings together a diverse group of stakeholders, including educators, students, businesses, non-profits, schools, and the community college, to build the 21st-century workforce for Davie County.
The final section of the All-America City application highlighted programs that will improve the quality of life for youth and, by extension, all members of the community. Next Tuesday’s article will focus on the S.U.R.F. Board. The S.U.R.F. Board is a group of high school students who raise money and award grants to youth-led projects in Davie County. This is an opportunity for young people to learn about philanthropy; giving of their time, talents, and treasures to make life better for others. Board members learn about needs in the community, the responsibilities that go along with giving, as well as important leadership skills that will serve them well into adulthood.