Most high school students would be tempted to take it easy on a Friday, but not those enrolled in Pueblo Community College Southwest’s (PCC Southwest) career and technical education (CTE) program.
Through the college’s Friday Academy, students across the Southwest region use their day off to get a leg up in high-demand fields like healthcare and construction.
“The goal of the Friday Academy is to make education as hands-on as possible so students will be excited to enroll when they graduate or work toward a credential pathway in high school,” said Perry Pepper, director of academic services at PCC Southwest. “Now students have an activity on Friday, and they get more college credit.”
Providing Pathways Beyond the Classroom
Launched last fall, the program hosts students from Montezuma-Cortez, Dolores, and Mancos High Schools, as well as Southwest Open School and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. Perry said the idea came from conversations with PCC Southwest and district leaders, who wanted to keep students occupied on their day off. Many schools follow a four-day week aligned perfectly with PCC’s Southwest course schedule.
Beginning with certified nursing and automotive technology programs, the Friday Academy recently added pathways in engineering and construction and will start drone flight next fall. Perry said that students earn high school and college credit through the state’s Concurrent Enrollment program and gain industry credentials that prepare them for the workforce—earning them opportunities to join the workforce, continue training, or both.
“CTE provides a pathway for the student beyond the classroom,” he said. “It connects their academic journey with their career.”
Seth Ward, who oversees the state’s skilled trades and technical sciences CTE programs for the Colorado Community College System, praised the Friday Academy’s collaborative approach.
“This is an example of a high-quality, innovative CTE program that benefits all stakeholders,” he said. “It provides access for marginalized learners and removes barriers to participation.”
Ready for the Real World
Donovan Maloney, an instructor with the Friday Academy’s construction program, said the courses fill critical workforce shortages in a remote part of the state. Nine students are currently enrolled in his course, picking up basic carpentry, power tool, and professional skills while working toward an OSHA 10 certification.
“They’re getting a good generalization of all the dynamics that happen on a job site—from the hands-on work, logistics, and safety to having the right attitude,” he said.
Now a small business owner, Maloney worked in and taught construction for the Navy for more than 20 years. Although local corporations are desperate for skilled workers, he said that training opportunities are scarce in his part of the state.
“You can drive through our city within five minutes, and then you’re onto the next town. It’s a pretty small population,” he explained. “A lot of parents are looking to send their kids to this course so they can actually get a credential and be ready for the real-world workforce.”
‘An Incredible Success’
Perry said the program is delivering great results so far. One student earned her CNA certificate last year and returned this semester to enroll in Maloney’s course, gaining valuable skills in two high-growth fields.
“By the end of this year, she is going to walk away with three credentials and experience before investing a lot of her time figuring out what pathway she wants to pursue,” he said. “That exposure is an incredible success for these students.”
As the Friday Academy aims to serve even more students in the coming years, Maloney urged other industry experts to lend their talents as instructors.
“If you’re a professional, there is a standard you have to pass on to the next generation. We have to keep the spirit alive,” he said.