ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Jefferson High School played host to the leader of the U.S. Department of Education on Monday, as part of Secretary Betsy DeVos’ Education Freedom Tour.
Jefferson’s College and Career Academy is what caught DeVos’ eye, specifically how it prepares students for life after graduation, regardless if they choose to go to college or straight into the workforce.
“They need to have options to find the right niche for their futures,” DeVos said.
DeVos’ only Illinois stop was at Jefferson.
“We’re trying to go to places that are indeed looking at and thinking about doing things differently, to meet students’ needs and to embrace the multitude of pathways that we have to be supporting for students,” she said.
Rockford School Superintendent Dr. Ehren Jarrett said, “We are attempting to do things very uniquely, to provide students with real, hands-on learning experiences and ensuring all of our students leave high school college and career-ready.”
The College and Career Academy has four classes, in manufacturing, medical labs, entrepreneurship, and forensics and law enforcement.
DeVos spoke with students in each classroom.
“It becomes more relevant, and they have an opportunity to really either decide there’s something they really don’t like doing and pivot away from that, or something they really embrace and explore and dive into that further,” DeVos said.
“Also, maybe an opportunity to learn about, maybe, something that they’re not as excited about, before they start paying thousands of dollars for post-secondary training,” Jarrett added.
DeVos said her favorite of the four classes was the entrepreneurship class.
“I was born into an entrepreneurial family and have four entrepreneurial children, so it’s kind of in my DNA,” she said.
Jarrett believes the classes could be the key to job creation in the stateline.
“We’re not only filling the jobs we need today: we’re also building the jobs of the future,” he said. “Some of those students may actually create new businesses that employ students in the future.”
Jefferson has had its College and Career Academy for five years now and DeVos said she was impressed.
The Secretary’s visit did not come without controversy: dozens gathered outside Jefferson to protest DeVos’ visit.
Protesters carried signs and shouted “Dump DeVoss” as she arrived.
The Illinois Education Association encouraged teachers and staff to wear red to symbolize the importance of equal public education for all students.
“De-funding public schools and charter schools is not something we’re going to tolerate,” said Mel Champion. “And so, what we want to say today is, ‘Hey, talk to us. Put us to the table. Listen to us.'”
DeVos has long advocated for school choice, voucher programs, and charter schools.
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