Published in the Modesto Bee JANUARY 16, 2021 11:11 AM

As we near the end of one of the most challenging and unique periods of many of our lives, we must begin to push ourselves to envision a brighter future: to a set of post-Covid-19 innovations that might benefit our youth and the economy of our region.

We must start by acknowledging the impact of this pandemic on every aspect of our lives. We have lost friends, family and loved ones. We have lost businesses and jobs. We must deal with a virus that has challenged us in every way.

But there are signs of hope – with vaccines being administered as we speak – that sometime in 2021 and into 2022 we will emerge into the light at the end of a long tunnel. The question is what will the light reveal, and what can we do to shape that world with the work we do now? Does it look like what we were doing before this happened or can we create a better future – one more aware of our vulnerabilities, and better prepared to provide our young people with more meaningful career opportunities and a more durable future?

At San Joaquin A+, we recently held a webinar with business leaders in our region titled “How to Build Ladders to Good Jobs” to react to a report from the University of the Pacific that paints a troubling snapshot of current economic trends in Stockton and the greater San Joaquin Valley.

The authors of the report and the business leaders we engaged recommend that our community develop new learning and training pipelines in partnership with local schools, and expand apprenticeship programs by engaging local employers and unions. The report also highlights certain job fields that are ripe with opportunity, like the healthcare and education sectors.

These conversations and findings lead us to believe the time is now to begin to work toward solutions, so that our future is that much brighter when we emerge from this long tunnel. But building those ladders to good jobs will require a fundamental reimagining of school as we know it.

To spark this work, we are announcing plans to fund three new early college high school programs that will provide our students the chance to graduate from high school with an Associate’s Degree, a paid work-based experience in a career pathway of interest and a reduced burden for tuition and college loans for the young adult and/or their parents.

Early College High Schools offer real opportunities for young adults and while they aren’t new, they’ll be new for us in this region. The Early College High School Model was established in 2002 in order to increase the opportunity for traditionally underrepresented youth to earn a postsecondary degree and/or credential. The benefits are well-documented.


Consider a program near Detroit, where students earn their Associate’s Degrees and become certified in an allied health profession. Pharmacy Technician, Paramedic, and Respiratory Therapist are just three of the certifications that can be earned. We are happy to be supporting local partners at Aspire Vanguard Schools and Modesto Junior College who have plans to build a similar program in West Modesto.

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Health careers aren’t of interest to you? What about our growing need for high-tech agriculture professionals? Modesto JC and Stanislaus County Office of Education will be partnering locally to create an agricultural focused early college high school right here in Stanislaus County, using Modesto JCs well regarded Agriculture and Environmental Sciences program to put high school students on a pathway to these jobs earlier in life.

Meanwhile, in San Joaquin County, we hire close to 800 teachers a year. San Joaquin County Office of Education and San Joaquin Delta College are stepping up to create a partnership called TEACH! Academy, that will put students on a pathway to quality careers as educators and fill this local need. This will allow high school students to accelerate the path to degree completion and entrance into the workforce, and save money on college tuition while doing it.

Are we completely devoid of these programs here now? No, we should give credit to the aspiring programs that already exist in places like Lammersville/Delta College, Health Careers Academy in the Stockton Unified School District, and offerings at Aspire schools. But we are funding these new school plans because we believe we can and should do more, and are excited about the desire to be innovative here in “StanJoaquin” Counties. In addition to our school system partners, we are grateful to the Stanislaus Community Foundation and the Business Council of San Joaquin, as just two of many community organizations involved.

Let’s plan on coming out of this pandemic with some innovations that make us better, and lead to good jobs and meaningful work for thousands of young people. Here in the San Joaquin Valley, the quality of what we cultivate – our grapes, walnuts, cherries, and tomatoes – is known for being among the very best in the world.

At San Joaquin A+, we envision a world where our education system is known for the same high quality, where we cultivate minds as well as we cultivate crops, and most importantly our young people have the chance to move on to good jobs and meaningful careers right here at home.

Let’s not miss this opportunity.

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