BLADENSBURG — President Barack Obama visited Bladensburg High School Monday to unveil a new grant program that will bring $7 million to three Prince George’s County high schools to better prepare graduates for a changing job market.
The grants from the Youth CareerConnect program, which was established last year, will deliver 24 awards worth a total of $107 million to local education agencies across the country, including school systems in New York, Los Angeles and Denver.
The program will help “redesign…America’s high schools for the 21st century,” Obama said Monday in a speech to the student body in Bladensburg.
“A lot of [high schools] were designed with curriculums based on the 1940s and ‘50s and ‘60s, and haven’t been updated,” Obama said. “The idea behind this competition is how do we start making high schools, in particular, more interesting, more exciting, more relevant to young people.”
The program seeks to make graduates more employable by collaborating with colleges and employers. For example, the program will allow Bladensburg students interested in biomedical sciences to earn college credit through the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Students will also have access to paid work experience and internships at companies like Lockheed Martin.
“We’re looking forward to our students not just saying that they’re college-ready, but already having college experience under their belt when they go on and graduate,” said Lateefah Durant, an academic officer for Prince George’s County Public Schools.
Two other schools in the county – Potomac High School and Fairmont Heights High School – will also receive funding. The three high schools will share the $7 million allotted to Prince George’s County schools.
Durant said the selection of the schools was strategically planned to increase graduation rates in the county. Prince George’s County has the second-worst graduation rate in Maryland (74 percent in 2013), ahead of Baltimore City, which had 69 percent of students graduate in 2013.
At Bladensburg High School, two-thirds of students are low-income who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, according to the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics.
“For a lot of our students, they may be the first-generation in their family to go onto college, and it’s often difficult to navigate that process,” Durant said. “It’s an opportunity to give our students that pathway they need to success…making sure that every step of the way there’s somebody holding their hand to get them there and to guide them.”
Obama said students need to be ready to compete not just with people in the same town for jobs, but with people all over the world. To have careers in fields that are “in-demand,” such as information technology and biosciences, he said students will have to get a head start before college.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that every single young person here can have that ‘aha’ moment,” Obama said. “That light bulb goes off and suddenly you’re not just studying because your parents tell you to or your teacher tells you to, you’re studying because you know you’ve got something to offer.”
Babah Mansaray, a senior at Bladensburg in the school’s nursing program, vouched for the importance of hands-on learning.
“You know how in schools, you just focus on books and studying? Here, when we go to the nursing home, we actually take care of the patients,” he said. “We got to a nursing home every single day.”
Maame Ampomah, who is also in the nursing program and is a member of the ROTC, said she likes that she can earn a certification in nursing while in high school without having to go to college for it.
“College isn’t for everyone – some people can’t afford it, some people just don’t like school that much I guess,” she said. “Now we have an option after high school. Even if we’re not going to college, we will be certified as nursing assistants. We can use that and we can work with that.”