GLASGOW – The Barren County Skills Development Academy has partnered with the South Central Workforce Development Board in Bowling Green and the Cumberlands Workforce Development Board in Campbellsville to offer a web design class to high school students and adults.
BCSDA, or BC Skills as it is more commonly known, was founded in 2018 and is a program within the Barren County School District.
“We wanted to provide a capstone for a computer science pathway that was No. 1, so we invested a lot of time in developing a computer science program that was K-12. And if you are going to do that well, you really need a capstone that takes what they are learning and transitions it over to the workforce prior to them entering the workforce,” said Justin Browning, project manager for BC Skills.
“That was our desire going in but also we wanted to be intentional about offering opportunities for adults in our area. Since the first group in 2018, BC Skills has been a hybrid program where we have both high school students and adults participating.”
This is the first time for the class to be offered off-site in Bowling Green and Campbellsville.
The decision was made to make the web design class available in other communities after being contacted by several entities over the past three years.
“I’ve been a little slow to scale it up because I wanted to make sure our product was refined to the point that we thought it would be worthwhile to both the people in the communities and to whoever we were partnering with,” he said.
There are nine students taking the class in Bowling Green and 20 in Campbellsville.
When the students graduate they will have the capacity to be junior web developers, Browning said.
“They will have gone through a curriculum that has been consulted on by several different companies that have taken a vested interest in what we’re trying to do, so they will have the capacity and the skillset as junior web developers,” he said.
Both classes are taught by Matthew Riley of Glasgow, who is the lead instructor and an employee of the Barren County Board of Education. Riley is a former student of the class and was part of the 2018 class.
Jamie Aquino, also of Glasgow, and Austin Benedict, of Franklin, Tenn., are also graduates of the class and make up the support staff.
The class meets two days a week in Bowling Green and two days a week in Campbellsville. Both classes meet virtually on Fridays.
“We’re excited to be scaling up a model that has proven to be successful in Barren County. We are going to continue to look for ways to innovate in a time of limited resources,” said Bo Matthews, superintendent of Barren County Schools, adding the school system seems to have found a niche that benefits high school students, as well as displaced workers.
“The outcome is that people have credentials and are ready for high-paying jobs of the future immediately.”
Dr. Robert Boone, outgoing president and CEO of the South Central Workforce Development Board, said the computer coding and IT in general is an emerging industry in the region.
“We wanted to make sure we’re preparing the workforce for not only the jobs that exist now, but also the jobs that are likely to exist in the future. When we look at the data we see that computer coding jobs are increasing in our region (and) also nationwide,” he said.
Such jobs can often be done remotely, which he said is good for a lot of people’s schedules.
“That’s something we really want to move into and invest in as a workforce board. The program is housed in partnership with the WKU Center for Research and Development, which is a great spot for the academy because the students are surrounded by new businesses, startup businesses. Some of the students may even want to start up a business themselves and ... are already plugged in to a network that can help support them,” Boone said.
The South Central Workforce Development Board provided financial support for six students to take the class in Barren County, and was able to do so with a grant it received for economic recovery due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The class is offered in Barren County during the fall semester.
The Cumberlands Workforce Development Board has 20 students taking the class this semester. A majority of the students taking the class in Campbellsville are adults.
“They have in some way, somehow been affected by the pandemic. Maybe it was the loss of a job or their hours have been reduced,” said Lyndsey Brown, economic recovery coordinator for the South Central and Cumberlands Workforce Development boards.
Because of the impact the pandemic has had on their employment, they qualified under the grant the workforce board received.
“That was one reason we wanted to do BC Skills is to get these people in the district in a different industry (and) broaden their skillset and provide them with a whole range of knowledge they didn’t have before,” she said.
Some of the companies that have hired students who have graduated from the class are ADK Group, which is based in Boston but has an office in Louisville and a few other locations; Fifth Dimension Strategies, which is based in Kansas City; South Central Rural Telephone Cooperative, Bluehorse and Lynx Labeling, all in Glasgow, Browning said.
One Barren County High School student who took the class during the fall semester of 2020, Collin Graves, along with BCHS’s business pathway students Melena Hughes, Gracelyn DeWeese and Cathern Goodman worked on an app that won the Congressional App Challenge for the Second Congressional District for 2020.
“This is the second consecutive year (of students winning),” Browning said. “Their concept is a web application that matches local consumers to local producers. So, the idea itself is they want to bolster local tourism by providing up-to-date accurate information and reviews from local people, and they want to give an outlet for local businesses to get their product, whatever their product or service is in front of their target audience.”
While there are many opportunities to read reviews about businesses and services online, there aren’t many just for rural area businesses and services, he said.
The app is still “a work in progress.”
“They will spend some time this semester getting that deployable product potentially to the marketplace,” he said.
Having BCHS students win the Congressional App Challenge two years in a row is “... a testimony to creating opportunities for our students to be successful. And in saying that, we continue to look for ways where we can basically remove barriers in our institutions of learning and combine learning opportunities that transcend the traditional learning mode.”