Grant to expand, improve Sidney Public Schools Career Pathways program

A $100,000 grant from the Sidney Community Donor-Advised Fund, an affiliated fund of Nebraska Community Foundation, will result in expanded offerings and opportunities for Sidney High School students involved in the Career Pathways program.

Developed in 2017 by Superintendent Jay Ehler and his team, the Career Pathways program is providing real-life skills and work experiences to Sidney High School students. Currently, the program includes introductory and intermediate courses, capstone classes, job shadowing and internships within six high-demand career clusters including human sciences and education; business, marketing and management; and health sciences, among others.

While the current program does include an agriculture, food and natural resources track, the grant will provide Sidney Public Schools with the resources to create a dedicated agriculture pathway, which involves the hiring of a new full-time certified teacher; new classes including Intro to Agriculture, Agri-Business, Animal Science, and Plant Science; textbooks and supplies; the purchase of a 3D virtual dissection table and increased leadership opportunities through the National FFA Organization (Future Farmers of America), a new extra-curricular option available to students.

Ehler says a revisioning process with the Nebraska Department of Education revealed a need and desire for a more robust program that would better prepare students interested in agricultural careers. As part of the revisioning process, the school held a community engagement meeting in December 2019. It was there that many community members and local business leaders stressed the importance of establishing a pipeline into existing job opportunities available in Sidney. Ehler says increased reports of students interested in pursuing a job in the field combined with growth in enrollment at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis were further indicators of the need for an expanded program.

One of the most impressive aspects of the new agriculture pathway is an Anatomage table, also made possible by the Sidney Community Donor-Advised Fund. The interactive 3D technology allows students to engage with and learn about both human and animal anatomy through virtual dissection and investigation. The Silicon Valley-based company say its products draw students’ interest and attention leading to more effective educational outcomes. Research has even linked access to Anatomage technology to improved test scores and more efficient class and lab sessions. Ehler says Sidney is one of only a small handful of Nebraska communities to have the state-of-the-art equipment in its classrooms.

Ehler, faculty, local businesses and community members all seem to agree that a major focus of the Career Pathways program is to expose students to the many career opportunities available in Sidney and urge them to consider living there in the future.

“One of the main goals of this program is to show students what Sidney has to offer,” said Ehler. “When students leave high school for a trade school, college or to enter the workforce, we want them to remember the opportunities available right here in their hometown and to consider staying or returning someday.”

“People attraction should be a top priority for all Nebraska hometowns,” said Jeff Yost, president and CEO of Nebraska Community Foundation, a statewide nonprofit organization with which the Sidney Community Donor-Advised Fund is affiliated. “To do that, we need to be intentional about the way we talk about the myriad opportunities available in our communities. The vision of Sidney Public Schools, the support of the community and the investment of the Sidney Community Donor-Advised Fund exemplifies what effective people attraction looks like.”

While the significant support from the Sidney Community Donor-Advised Fund is a boon to the Career Pathways program, it won’t sustain it forever. Ehler is hopeful that this gift will prompt other organizations, businesses and community members to contribute to the program and ultimately, Sidney’s future.