By Pepper Fisher

PORT ANGELES – High school students on the Olympic Peninsula will soon be able to take part in a brand new grant program that will help them pursue education and career training after high school thanks to a $4 million Horizons grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The 3-year program, beginning in the 2024/2025 school year, is a regional partnership coordinated by West Sound STEM Network that features local school districts, colleges, and community and workforce organizations, helping more local students continue their education after high school.

Other core partners named in the grant are College Success Foundation and Peninsula College. We spoke with Keith Stier-Van Essen from the College Success Foundation and Peninsula College President Suzy Ames.

Ames says our area’s kids are being specifically targeted for this program.

“Not enough of our kids go on to post-secondary. And, in particular, kids from low socio-economic rural areas, and kids representing diversity, and students of color are not achieving success post-secondary at the same rate as white, more wealthy students. So, we’re really targeting this area as a geographic area that just needs more support, and more connected opportunities between K-12 and post-secondary and employers.”

Stier-Van Essen says the program goes well beyond just getting more young people into college.

“When we speak of college, we’re really talking about anything after high school. Post-secondary, that could be vocational training, it could be apprenticeships, it could be the trades, and also 2 year and 4 year degrees. Right? So, we want to make sure that, in the audience, that they’re not confusing and thinking this is only trying to help students go to 4 year colleges.” 

Peninsula College has for years worked with local employers to get students trained for specific jobs in our own community, but Suzy Ames says this will be a major expansion of that idea.

“So, picture a field trip of students coming and spending an hour in our chemistry lab with Dr. Jones and getting a a fun hands-on science experiment. And at the same time we’ll have a representative from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory right there talking about job opportunities right here in Sequim at PNNL. Same thing, our students might visit the welding lab, and we might have a representative from, let’s say, Brix Marine or Stabicraft, also opening up their facility for a tour for high school students, so that students can see that full picture of what it means to go to school and then get a job right here in our community.”

Horizons is part of the Gates Foundation’s work in Washington state that focuses on ensuring that young people have access to a broad spectrum of opportunities to design their own futures.

Ames said she is confident this multi-agency strategy is going to produce what she called “palpable results in a very short amount of time.”

(Photo: Suzy Ames)