“Options and opportunities” has become a motto in the Jackson-Madison County School System as we seek to do everything we can to provide a variety of pathways for our students to prepare for postsecondary education and the workforce.

This past November, the Governor Bill Lee’s office announced the recipients of $25 million in funding from the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) program. Joint applicants TCAT-Jackson, along with Jackson State Community College, University of Tennessee-Martin, and Jackson-Madison County Schools were awarded a GIVE grant totaling $927,580.

Already Jackson-Madison County Schools is providing a variety of workforce development opportunities through programs such as L.O.O.P. (Local Options and Opportunities) and LAUNCH. These programs give students the choice to explore different careers, obtain industry certifications, and gain on the job experience before graduating high school. In addition to a wide variety of dual enrollment courses offered across the district, students at the school where I teach English, Jackson Central-Merry Early College High School, can graduate with both their high school diploma and an associate degree from Jackson State Community College.

The $400,000 of this GIVE award allotted to Jackson-Madison County Schools will be used to complete the first phase of creating a workforce development center on the campus of Jackson Central-Merry Early College High School. This funding will help transform an old, cavernous warehouse space into modern classrooms and labs where we can train and equip students for 21st century careers. With a central hub for our workforce development programs at the same location as Early College High, students from all the high schools across the district will be able to take classes in advanced manufacturing, welding, and health science.

As a teacher at Jackson Central-Merry Early College High School, I see the positive benefits my students are reaping every day from the exciting postsecondary opportunities that we provide them here and in our district as a whole. I am excited that this funding will allow us to open up classes for even more students to participate in these programs. By enabling students to get ahead in their pursuit of higher education and career opportunities, we are truly changing lives, including those of many students who otherwise may not have pursued the careers and educational pathways that have now been opened to them.

With this grant, we will be able to increase exponentially our district’s workforce development and postsecondary programs and have an even greater impact on the growth of our students, our community, and West Tennessee as a whole.

Bob Sparks is an English teacher at Jackson Central-Merry Early College High School in Jackson, Tennessee.