First Lady Jill Biden drops in on District 214's Career Pathways program
As she took the controls of a robot built by Rolling Meadows High School students, first lady Jill Biden gave a quick warning.
"You know I haven't driven in a while," Biden joked with students in Anthony Genovese's engineering and manufacturing class Monday.
Biden visited Rolling Meadows High School to kick off National Apprenticeship Week and hear more about Northwest Suburban High School District 214's Career Pathways program, which provides students a chance to explore various careers through specialized courses and workplace experiences.
The program offers courses and internships in 16 career clusters including agriculture, education, health sciences, distribution and logistics, public safety and hospitality.
"If we could take what we have here and bottle it up and have it across the country, this would be a better country," said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who accompanied Biden on the tour of Rolling Meadows' program.
District 214's program has grown over the last 10 years to include a network of more than 1,000 employer partners. Last year, 2,300 students participated in more than 4,000 work experiences, such as student teaching in area elementary schools, through the partnerships.
"District 214 has transformed our schools to deliver on the promise of career-connected learning," said Laz Lopez, District 214 associate superintendent for teaching and learning. "The 12,000 students across our district are positioned to discover their future. ... So this means our students graduated inspired, informed and ready to pursue a career with economic mobility."
The U.S. Department of Education is launching a new initiative to expand such training programs to help prepare students for jobs in high-demand fields. The Raise the Bar: Unlocking Career Success initiative includes a $200 million investment in high school programs that offer career-connected coursework and learning opportunities. The effort also involves the U.S. Department of Labor and Commerce.
"We're all coming together to make this happen," Biden said Monday.
Biden also was accompanied by U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
She and the others spoke with Rolling Meadows High School sophomore Kate Foley, district officials and Harper College Vice President of Workplace Solutions Michele Smith about the career-connected programs.
Foley said the pathways program helped solidify her interest in pursuing a career in biomedical engineering. She told Biden her mother is a three-time cancer survivor and she hopes one day to find a better way to deliver treatment to cancer patients.
"I saw what her treatments had done, and I feel like there's a much better way to handle that," she told Biden.
Foley is part of a program that attracts hundreds of students each year at Rolling Meadows High School. According to Illinois State Report Card data, more than 1,400 Rolling Meadows High School students took at least one career and technical education course during the 2021-22 school year, and 7,622 students did districtwide.
The data also showed a 97.8% districtwide four-year graduation rate for students in career and technical education programs.
"It just really let me know that I can do pretty amazing stuff and everything I learned here I can adapt to the real world," Rolling Meadows High School senior Omar Cabrera said of the pathways program.
Cabrera showed off a car that can travel about 120 miles on 6 to 8 ounces of gasoline, built in the high school's prototyping and engineering lab. He said he appreciated Biden's visit and the time she spent learning about the program and what students have done.
"It's just such a great opportunity," he said. "It makes me happy and proud of my work."
School officials echoed Cabrera's sentiments about Biden's visit.
"It's a validation of all the good and hard work that the school has been doing over the past 10 years," said Anthony Genovese, an instructor for engineering and manufacturing at Rolling Meadows High School.
Biden also stopped in Chicago for a business roundtable discussion at Aon to talk about the role registered apprenticeships, high schools and community colleges play in training the workforce. She also talked about programs that help high school students.
"Career-connected learning -- programs that bridge the gap between what students learn and the careers they will eventually find -- is not a new idea," Biden said at Aon. "What is new is that President Biden's entire administration is committed to making it a reality for all students, through unprecedented collaboration and historic investments. Joe knows that this pipeline of support from high school to community college to career is the future of our workforce."
She encouraged business leaders to create apprenticeships, work with high schools and community colleges, and mentor students. "Education has always been about jobs," she said.