Emphasis on Employability Guides Career Pathways at Pea Ridge School District

February 12, 2020
Superintendent Rick Neal, Pea Ridge School District

Preparing our students for success in the workforce can’t be accomplished without first looking to the needs in our own community. In an effort to align education with local business and industry, Pea Ridge School District in Northwest Arkansas – a ForwARd community – is creating a school system that develops essential skills necessary for jobs in the local workforce.

After gathering input from the regional businesses and stakeholders, Pea Ridge developed a strategic plan to increase students’ employability – their ability to get a good job and earn a living wage. Together, they identified the skills needed to be successful in careers in Northwest Arkansas.

In 2014, the Pea Ridge Manufacturing and Business Academy (PRMBA) was formed to prepare students for meaningful careers in regional businesses and industries – offering them a glimpse into what attainable jobs could look like. PRMBA offers high school students specialized courses, such as animal science, culinary arts and healthcare management, that complement their core curriculum and extracurricular activities. This structure gives students the flexibility to be involved in band and track, for example, while also taking career-oriented classes through PRMBA.

In the six years since PRMBA’s inception, attendance rates have risen among those enrolled in career courses, and employability is on a constant rise – illustrating the model’s success in preparing students for the workforce immediately upon graduation. Eighty-five percent of PRMBA students are now employed in the region in one way or another.

But the process doesn’t begin when students enter high school – children should be exposed to potential career pathways as early as kindergarten. By educating elementary and middle school students on careers in STEM, they will be more aware of options when they begin high school. Rolled out in 2018, the Pea Ridge Exploration of Pathways (PREP) initiative introduces kindergarten through eighth graders to more than 230 careers through hands-on STEM curriculum – linking them to future jobs and preparing them for the high school experience.

We’ve seen students get and keep jobs thanks to the skills they learned through these programs. Brent, a Pea Ridge graduate, has a full-time job at J.B. Hunt and is working his way through college. Bryce, one of the first students to complete the marketing/logistics pathway, started college with 28 concurrent college credits earned through PRMBA classes. During college, he worked as a brand ambassador for Mojo Marketing and later landed a job at Walmart, a Northwest Arkansas based company.

All students should have the opportunity and skills necessary to land a good job – our model helps increase their chances.

For more information about Pea Ridge’s approach to employability, please contact Pea Ridge School District Superintendent Rick Neal at rneal@pearidgek12.com.