Bringing education to life

In the classroom, outside the classroom, and as an enduring career, when children can see more clearly how education relates to the real world — their real world — they are far more likely to succeed in school and beyond. This can be accomplished by offering them the opportunity to experience a career firsthand, then giving them the tools and support they need to pursue it.

Dedicated Rockford educational leaders sought to give this invaluable opportunity to all our students — ensuring equitable access and allowing students to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for economic stability. With a 66% graduation rate, there would be a need for interventive efforts to help more students thrive. The ultimate goal is the development of an expanded learning model to better prepare our youth to be college, career, and life ready.

Once implemented, such a program would be transformative for the students, and in turn, our entire community. As graduates shape brighter futures, the benefits of enhanced prosperity and quality of life among all residents grow exponentially each year. This ambitious endeavor would require student access to area organizations for work-based learning, development of new school processes, highly engaged community partnerships — and funding.

Investing with limitless returns

The vision for Rockford students reflected precisely the mission of the Great Lakes College & Career Pathways Partnership (GLCCPP). Funded by The Joyce Foundation, a national nonprofit, the GLCCPP designated four applicant communities to design and implement systems to equitably empower students for advancement into the workforce. In 2016, Rockford, Illinois; Madison, Wisconsin; Central Ohio/Greater Columbus, Ohio; and the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, Illinois; were announced as grant recipients.

Rockford Public Schools, Alignment Rockford, and Rock Valley College, together, were awarded $500,000 over five years to scale and sustain the capacity to achieve optimal student readiness for employment—principally through their secondary and post-secondary education.

Building on a concept already embraced by Rockford Public Schools, grant funding would, in part, support “Academies,” or schools within high schools, which offer training in a general career direction. Within each Academy, several more narrowly focused career “Pathways” offer students greater specialization.

Providing Greater Access:

At the core of the new initiative was building out existing pathways into true programs of study, to guide, educate, and foster students in their chosen career interest areas, while providing opportunities for businesses to develop their future workforce.

Building Better Processes:

All four traditional Rockford public high schools and one alternative learning high school established academic infrastructure to support Pathways for high- demand fields.

Developing Stronger Partnerships:

Alignment Rockford supplied the vital link between schools and community employers. Rock Valley College served as the post-secondary educational partner.

Explore, then soar

The results speak volumes. Through the Great Lakes College & Career Pathways Partnership Grant, students gained access to industry expertise, career inspiration, and workforce preparation and businesses teamed up with enthused, well-equipped students.

The GLCCPP journey has helped our community build a foundation to support meaningful and lasting improvement in advancing equity and economic mobility for generations to come.

Participation numbers:

instructors in program with related professional work experience
grant recipient school districts formed a collaborative network

sharing insight, successes, and challenges. The ongoing exchange of ideas is a new educational resource for each community.

Area businesses and organizations forged new alliances with Rockford Public Schools

Rockford Public Schools and Rock Valley College strengthened their working relationship

Opening doors | ACCESS

The GLCCPP Grant makes it possible for regional employers to team up with motivated Rockford students. Students gain career insight, industry knowledge, mentoring, and work-based experiences. Employers gain the ability to help shape curriculum, develop a better-prepared workforce, and connect early with students whose career goals align with an organization’s hiring needs.


The Public Safety Pathway is an ideal example of the unique access and insight students are afforded with work-based learning. Aspiring public servants can explore the responsibilities, beneficial qualities, and daily activities of various criminal justice roles.

Detective Jeff Barabasz is a 24-year veteran of the Rockford Police Department and a hands-on instructor in the Criminal Justice Pathway. Teaching the dual-credit course, Criminal Justice and Introduction to Crime Scene Investigation at Guilford High School, his curriculum incorporates fingerprinting, forensics, police reports, field trips, and visiting speakers, like crime victims, psychologists, and investigators. Students who complete this class receive both high school and college credit, at no cost, and without leaving their high school campus.

Setting into motion | PROCESSES

The grant aided schools’ ability to develop new curriculum, make classroom updates, obtain new textbooks and instructional materials, and add administrative support. All efforts have yielded high returns. Roosevelt Principal, Morgan Gallagher, reports that the GLCCPP Grant has resulted in remarkable outcomes, with nearly 100 students earning more than 200 college credits in the 2019-2020 school year alone. These are credits the students would not have been able to access without the programming the grant has provided.

“We now have many more graduates that plan to continue to college when they otherwise may not have thought it was an attainable option.”

Morgan Gallagher, Principal, Roosevelt Community Education Center

Opening doors | ACCESS

The GLCCPP Grant united Rockford Public Schools and Rock Valley College to build systems that overcome operational differences and maximize student learning potential.

“The grant brought two organizations with a shared vision to the table to work together on shaping solutions in the best interest of the students.”

Reid Jutras, Director of Career and Technical Education, Rockford Public Schools