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Inaugural Hanover Governor’s school fills a niche

Posted on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Students attend a "field experience" at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. (Photo courtesy of Les Cook and HRGS-CTE)

Students attend a “field experience” at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. (Photo courtesy of Les Cook and HRGS-CTE)

Gus Payne is a student at Goochland High School who has ambitions of entering the public service and communications sector once he completes his schooling; he, along with 37 other high school students from the first and third school regions in Virginia, is spending three weeks of his summer attending the inaugural Hanover Regional Governor’s School for Career and Technical Education (HRGS-CTE).

“I just thought it was a really neat opportunity,” Gus said of his decision to apply to the summer program. “It was really unique and I was excited to work with other students.”

The Governor’s School, which was first introduced as House Bill 887 by Delegate Chris Peace R-97th in 2014, is the first of its kind in the commonwealth and presumably the nation. The program offers high school students who are interested in pursuing technical careers a special summer opportunity alongside like-minded students.

“For too long I think people have thought that shop classes are for the students that aren’t smart, or for the students that can’t succeed,” Peace said.

“Why can’t we recognize the very talented students, the very bright students that want to pursue [career and technical education] and give them the very same opportunities that other students have in other fields?”

Along with the legislation, a successful budget amendment for a planning grant of $100,000 helped bring the school to fruition. In addition to those efforts, Peace cited the late Dr. Bill Bosher, a former state superintendent, former Hanover County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jamelle Wilson, New Kent County Public Schools Superintendent Rick Richardson, along with the study committee and the committee formed to design and implement the Governor’s school as the driving force behind making the HRGS-CTE a reality.

The students watch and engage in an athletic training presentation from a member of the University of Richmond’s Athletic Training Department.

The students watch and engage in an athletic training presentation from a member of the University of Richmond’s Athletic Training Department.

“It was a team effort, I had the policy idea but they had to put the meat on the bone,” Peace said.

Director of the HRGS-CTE  Les Cook is part of that core team. Cook has worked with the students for the entirety of the three-week long program, he said that a key part of ensuring that the Governor’s school is successful lies in keeping the program relevant to each individual student.

“We brought in 38 kids from 22 different school divisions who are interested in CTE,” he said.

“We’ve never done it before so it was a case of ‘will everything work?’ and so far everything has worked.”

Cook added that when the committee set about writing the proposal for the HRGS-CTE, they found that the technically-minded program was “a niche that hadn’t been filled yet.”

“What our committee did is as they were about to write their proposals was say ‘let’s look at what we have done in the state similar to this,’” he said. “They found nothing similar to this in the state. So, they said ‘let’s broaden it and start looking at the nation,’ and — they could be wrong, they might have missed something — but in their search they didn’t find anything in the nation that compares to it, either.”

“We felt like it was something that needed to be done, and we just didn’t find anybody else who was doing it yet,” Cook added.

As each specialty occupation requires different specific needs, instruction and technical knowledge, the Governor’s school is focused on teaching “workplace readiness skills” that are applicable across the board, among them problem solving, communication skills, team building and risk and reward analysis. A mentor program also allows for specialized advice and over the course of the three weeks the students are required to pitch a business plan in groups and build it from the concept up. In addition, the students are taken on regular “field experiences” which are intended to give them insight into a range of careers.

“We’ve been going on a series of ‘field experiences,’ we say that instead of field trips because it’s not just going to see something, it’s about having an experience at a business location to learn about the different career jobs,” Cook said. The students have visited a range of locations in order to get an idea of what sort of career and technical education positions might be available to them after high school. Among some of the highlights have been  a visit to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, the Richmond International Raceway (where the CEO gave them an exclusive talk on how the raceway is operated and managed) as well as the Morooka plant in Ashland.

“We’re showing them lots of different jobs and things to get into,” Cook said.

Although the HRGS-CTE has offered positive experiences, much like any situation that involves a group of people working together, the tasks have not been problem free.

“My most favorite experience has also been the most difficult experience for me, working with so many different opinions and personalities,”Gus said.

Cook echoed this learning experience, adding that most of the students who are usually leaders at their own school, are now finding themselves working alongside other students who are used to playing that same role in their own schools and classrooms.

“Just the growth we’ve seen in them in two weeks, I can only imagine the growth they would go through if they were out working in the field for a few years,” he said.

“After watching the kids blossom in this program it’s clear that [HRGS-CTE] was a necessary niche.”

As for the most valued workplace readiness skills?  Gus said that his mentor Benny Bowman, the Chief Operating Officer at Worth Higgins & Associates, a Richmond based printing firm, has offered him some sage advice to take with him once the first  group of HRGS-CTE students has their ending ceremony this coming Friday, July 22.

“It’s been really cool to see an outsiders view of workplace readiness skills,” he said. “[Bowman] has been telling us ‘if you’re going to tell somebody that you are going to do something, then make sure that you are loyal to your word,’ that has been really neat to get his view.”

Rebecca Metcalf can be reached at