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Work-Based Learning Program connects students with real-world experience

Fox Hollow Paraeducator Railya Izzayeva and student. Railya Izzayeva graduated from Grandview High School with a clear set of professional goals in mind.

When Izzayeva, 18, walked across the stage to receive her diploma earlier this year, she had a plan in place for her next steps toward a meaningful and rewarding career, a strategy shaped in part by her personal experiences as a student in the Cherry Creek School District.

She first arrived in CCSD as a fifth-grader, and she had already faced plenty of challenges. Izzayeva is deaf, and her first years of elementary school lacked the proper kind of support and encouragement from peers and teachers alike. What’s more, she’d faced communication issues within her own family – her parents, who originally hail from Turkey, primarily spoke Turkish and Russian in the home; Izzayeva, whose first languages are American Sign Language, English and Turkish, had struggled to make herself understood since infancy.

Her arrival in CCSD marked a turning point. Izzayeva recalled how teachers in the district took a personal interest in her education; she remembered how those powerful moments of kindness, paired with the proper kind of tools and resources, made a critical impact.

“When I came to CCSD, all of my teachers were encouraging and motivating,” Izzayeva said through an interpreter. “They’d tell me, ‘You can do it! You are a rockstar!’ That was the difference.”

Izzayeva spoke from a classroom at Fox Hollow Elementary school, where she’s working as a para-educator for deaf and hard of hearing preschool students. The job aligns with Izzayeva’s broader professional goals and personal mission: to offer students the same kind of support that made such a difference in her own life.

“My goal is to become a teacher of the deaf, a TOD, which means I need to get the experience with preschoolers. I’m always smiling in front of these kids,” she said, gesturing to the classroom full of preschoolers. Fox Hollow serves as the Cherry Creek School District’s home base for specialized instruction for those with hearing disabilities. “I want to give them more confidence, the same way that I found confidence in Cherry Creek Schools. I want them to be strong people.”

Izzayeva found her dream job in her home district straight out of high school thanks in part to CCSD’s Work-Based Learning Program. The optional college and career planning program offers sophomores, juniors and seniors from across the district early access to professional and career-based innovation opportunities. Designed for students with mild to moderate needs, the program is part of the district’s spectrum of Career and Technical Education opportunities, which runs the gamut from school-based programs to the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus, which opened its doors earlier this year.

According to Employment Specialist Lindy Cosgrove, the Work-Based Learning Program is a valuable bridge to career and college opportunities for a diverse range of students. Now in its fourth full year, the program connects high school students with real-world experience in fields ranging from IT and technical support to education.

“This program is for students who need a little bit of extra assistance in preparing for that next step,” Cosgrove said. “We connect students with volunteer experiences, paid work experiences, internships, assessments – we want to make sure that they have the aptitude and interest and ability to pursue that next step … We’re really a hands-on, career exploration program.”

It’s an approach that complements the programming at the CCIC, which offers students education and curriculum rooted in real-world skills and industries. The Work-Based Learning Program offers a different facet of that same mission – it helps prepare sophomores and juniors for classes at the CCIC campus, and it offers professional opportunities for upperclassmen who want another route to internships, apprenticeships and work experience.

“Our program has a different focus every month. The industries that we focus on are those that employ the most people in the state of Colorado; they’re the industries that the CCIC also focuses on. It’s a partnership that we’ve worked on since the beginning of the program,” said Work-Based Learning Specialist Erin Vogel. “We’re hoping that with our program we can show kids that there are a lot of different routes they can take to a career without a four-year degree.”

Temesghen Atsgeba didn’t have to veer very far from the Cherry Creek School District to find those kinds of professional opportunities through the program. After graduating from Eaglecrest High School in the spring and heading to college in the fall, Atsgeba worked as a summer intern at the district’s warehouse. Atsgeba gained valuable experience working with supervisor Science Resource Specialist Mary Brunetti to assemble FOSS science kits that go out to elementary schools across the district.

For Atsgeba, who’s blind, the experience was more than a simple summer job – it was proof that he could excel in a professional environment.ISF intern Valex McKindle

“I was not sure I’d be able to do anything,” Atsgeba recalled. “But the experience showed me that I could do a job. It was amazing.”

Valex McKindle also found a way to build up professional work experience in a district setting. McKindle, a Smoky Hill High School graduate, is currently working an internship as a technician at the district’s IT department housed at the Instructional Support Facility. McKindle repairs computers, and working alongside CCSD’s IT team has offered a broad range of experience; he’ll have a competitive edge when he eventually tests for his professional certifications.

McKindle, who graduated in the spring, credits the Work-Based Learning Program with connecting him with work that adequately reflects his interests and passions.

“I love computers, and it’s great to learn with professionals,” McKindle said. “I’m learning so much, and it will make getting a professional, full-time job so much easier. I know what I’m doing.”