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UH, HI-DOE and DVR Partner to Expand CTE Pathway to Include All Students in Building 21st Aquaponics Career Skills

Photo: Maui Aquaponics Team

University of Hawaii College of Education Center on Disability Studies, in partnership with the Career and Technical Education (CTE) unit of the Department of Education, and state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, are working together to further state's high school efforts to "Expand Access to CTE" to include all youth - with and without disability in acquiring workplace readiness and technical career skills utilizing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles/strategies and Harvard's Artful Thinking dispositions.

Photo: UH COE aquaponics trainees carrying out daily maintenance

In collaboration with DOE CTE the University of Hawaii College of Education Center on Disability Studies developed an inclusive entry-level industry aquaponics technician certification curriculum model designed to include all youth in transition headed for Natural Resources Production career pathways after high school. A "program of study" is in the work to matriculate to the UH Community Colleges. In the works is a HIDOE/CTE and UH partnership for K-4 grades life science curriculum to encourage early STEM interest.

“The CTE aquaponics technician pathway and its use of universal design for learning (UDL) provides inclusive opportunity to support the diverse needs of all youth in transition gaining skills to enter the workforce,” said Dr. JoAnn Yuen, incoming director of the UH Center on Disability Studies.

“Hawaii employs less than 10% of individuals with disabilities. We need raise expectations and self-determination through workforce development and self-employment projects such as the CTE aquaponics technician training curriculum.”

Aligned to Hawaii DOE common core and Natural Resource (NR) standards, the curriculum incorporate federally mandated Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles and strategies for the classroom and workplace settings.

The innovative pilot CTE curriculum is aligned to aquaponics industrial-recognized standards and food safety best practices to lead students to entry-level employment in Natural Resources Production aquaculture job sectors. Next step is for University of Hawaii to apply for industry standard, third-party recognition.

Photo: Technician prepares to ship AQUAPONO systems to Hawaii Schools

The partners coalesced in response to a decade of federal calls for "expanding access to CTE" to include all high school students getting ready to transition out of high school. Research shows that youth with disabilities do well in CTE classrooms. However, more students with disabilities need to be enrolled in CTE programming, which is funded by the federal Carl Perkins Act. From high school, students can advance their education by enrolling in community college CTE training and certification that focus on hands-on competencies and mastery.

The inclusive high school aquaponics certification training will widen the CTE work readiness technical skills options in the aquaponics food production industry competencies.

While still in high school, all students with and without disabilities will begin to gain access to competitive wage earning careers in commercial aquaponics farm production or starting their own family agribusiness.

"We are pleased to be working with University of Hawaii and its partners to expand curricular access to CTE to all Hawaii high school students in transition,"

Natural Resources Production Resource Teacher Alison Inouye said. "We are especially impressed with the cooperative's certified technicians. The Aquapono turnkey microsystem affordably meet the needs of classroom teachers."

The classroom size Aquapono system, which need only a few ornamental fish to grow a square foot of edible greens, was the educational prototype designed and "trialed" between 2011-2014 with 20 adults of various ages with significant disabilities who were enrolled during a 36-month period supported by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. It is being implemented as a fully accessible and aligned to standards curriculum on the CTE pathway in Natural Resources Production.

Micro systems can grow both flowers and edibles.

The high school AQ curriculum's centerpiece is industry-recognized SOPs aligned to DOE common core, NR standards and industry standards, which will meet a range of skills development needs of high school students with or without disabilities. Disability-sensitive supports and integrated job accommodations are built into all and every daily work operations.&

During the 2014-15 school year, the high school aquaponics technician certification program of study will offered dual enrollment at the UH community colleges, with the co-op technicians helping train students in standard operating procedures (SOPs)

Aquaponics as an emerging food production industry has a range of hands-on, entry-level skills sets, which are flexible in engaging unserved and underserved adult learners many with histories of chronic underemployed and unemployment outside the competitive job market. 

"When we launched the pilot project at Maui College, we recognized the gaps in industry recognized technician education," said Project Director Susan Miller. "The Hawaii high school Natural Resources Teachers had embraced aquaponics in their schools' ag programming. UH worked to expand access for all students. We developed, aligned and proved an industry-recognized curriculum and SOPs to state standards advance the workforce preparation requirements."

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