How does a rural community with limited
resources connect students to job skills needed
in the regional economy? Often, the first step to
solving a problem is asking the right questions.
When, five years ago, district officials and
community leaders in North Carolina’s Beaufort
County formed their Labor Force Development
Team to face this challenge, the group began
by discerning the needs of local employers.
What skills are in short supply with applicants?
What do students need to know to be prepared
for careers at those companies?
Answers were heavily flavored by the
county’s strong manufacturing base. Bisected
east to west by the Pamlico River, feeding the
Atlantic, North Carolina’s Beaufort County has
a legacy of shipbuilding dating back to the
Revolutionary War. This manufacturing heritage
continues up this day, not only with multiple
marine craft companies but also with air
filtration, fertilizer, and other industries. About
17 percent of the county’s private workforce
is employed in manufacturing, compared to
about 10 percent nationally.
Determination of these leaders resulted in
the creation of a multifaceted middle school-to-careers pipeline whose centerpiece is an
apprenticeship program organized through
the local community college. And according
to team member and district CTE Coordinator
Wendy Petteway, “the Pitsco Expeditions taught
at the middle school level are in many ways the
foundation we are building the program upon.”
After the team conversed with regional
employers, one need emerged above all others,
more basic than any technical knowledge or
trade skill. Desiring a clear impetus to drive their
program forward, Beaufort educators reframed
this employer need as a question: how do we
teach students to know what to do when they
don’t know what to do?
As it has turned out, this was a question the Pitsco
Expeditions were uniquely qualified to answer.
The decision to purchase Pitsco’s Expeditions
came after a visit to a thriving Expeditions
lab in nearby Craven County. But Petteway
was already familiar with Pitsco’s education
philosophy, having previously worked at a
district with Pitsco Modules. “I brought Pitsco
ideas here with me. I love Pitsco. I saw the
difference it made in the lives of kids and
helping them understand, hey, I like to do this.
And there are jobs in this.”
Valerie Whitehead, a business teacher at P.S.
Jones Middle School, agreed to return to school
to get the recertification to teach a design class
and take on the Expeditions. At first, she found
it difficult to concede so much freedom to her
students, letting them work in pairs to solve
challenges. But the results spoke for themselves,
and now she is a fan of the self-driven learning
model. This year Whitehead handed over the
Expeditions to another teacher, who also has a
background in business: Rebecca Paul.
Paul describes herself as the lead learner
in the classroom. Though she has been
through all the Expeditions, she is up front
with her students that she does not know
all the answers and that it is not her place
to provide them. The Pitsco Expeditions are
about teaching students to solve the types of
problems they will encounter in the world of
work. One thing both teachers agree on is the
educational power of a little frustration.
“I had some seventh graders who really
liked Rolling Robots because they liked trying
to figure it out,” said Paul. “And for others it
frustrates them. And I’m glad it’s frustrating
them because it makes them dig. . . . I am not
going to tell them everything. I give them a lot
of what-if questions.”
According to Whitehead, who still teaches
STEM and works closely with Paul, “So many
kids don’t understand basic problem-solving.
They might get frustrated, but in the end they
figure it out and they feel so good.”
ONLY THE BEGINNING
The career pipeline put in place by the Labor
Force Development Team is only a few years
old, and the earliest students to experience the
reforms at the middle school level have not yet
gone into the workforce. But those students
are just now aging into the new apprenticeship
opportunities offered by the community college.
Already, exciting developments have been
seen at the high school level, as Petteway
enthusiastically explains, “At Washington High
School, which P.S. Jones feeds into, we’re doing
a visual performing arts and industrial design
academy. We’ve crossed the bridge between
art and industry.” One such project had kids
cooperating across disciplines to design a food
pantry for a local church. “The art kids designed
it. The drafting kids built the plans for it. The
carpentry kids used a CNC machine to cut the
actual materials out for the pantry and put it
together. . . . That’s what our workforce wants.
They want kids who can work together, figure
This kind of creative problem-solving is
exactly what the Expeditions are designed to
encourage, and this is exactly why Beaufort
County chose the Expeditions as the starting
point for the program. This year, the district
purchased more Expeditions titles, and there
are hopes to expand more in the future.
The educators and officials involved know
that this is just the beginning. “We’re getting
there,” said Petteway. “It’s not a full circle yet.
We’re just into our fifth year, and people are
starting to get the idea.” Every piece along the
pipeline is important, and a strong foundation
supports success along the whole path.
Beaufort County: A Work Ready Community
Pitsco Expeditions and an apprenticeship
program through the local community
college are two important tools Beaufort
County schools are employing to bolster their
school-to-careers pipeline. But the county
is using another important tool at the level
of the whole community: ACT® Work Ready
Communities across the country are
choosing to have their work readiness profiled
by the ACT organization. The payoff is a
plethora of data and tools that can be used to
grow their economies and close the regional
skills gap. Students preparing to enter the
workforce can take the WorkKeys® assessment
to acquire a certificate demonstrating their
mastery of relevant skills.
District CTE Coordinator Wendy Petteway
was one official who helped facilitate the
process. “It is spearheaded by our local
community college that we work closely
with, and we are currently working on our
Though the Pitsco Expeditions at the
middle school level might seem quite
removed from a program that gathers data
from regional employers, the two are actually
linked. This is because Pitsco Expeditions are
the only curricula that have been specifically
profiled by the ACT organization and
certified to promote the work-readiness skills
tested for on the WorkKeys assessment.
No wonder that Pitsco Expeditions are
creating a powerful educational foundation
that will pay dividends for the Beaufort