As we look forward to the new school year, Washington’s students have incredible learning opportunities ahead. As educators our joy is seeing students finding their passions and helping them build the skills they need to pursue their dreams. This is why we are excited that Washington lawmakers have expanded grant opportunities for schools to access Core Plus programs. Core Plus is a two-year program for high school students who earn credits through hands-on learning experiences that help build the skills needed in major industries for our state, including aerospace, construction and maritime.

Hands-on, service or experiential learning has proved to increase graduation rates. Moreover, these kinds of experiences also support a students’ ability to build soft skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving. These are exactly the skills that provide our students with the ability to succeed in their future academic and career goals and the confidence to know that their future is limitless.

More than ever, people are seeing the value in expanded learning opportunities that provide the rigor of a college-preparatory classroom with the relevance and context of the real world. Not all students learn the same way. For students who succeed through hands-on learning using their creativity to create something, Core Plus offers all the same education they would gain from the classroom, but in a setting more attuned to their learning style. The value of diversified learning opportunities like this cannot be understated for the success of our students.

We also know that Washingtonians increasingly want more career technical education programs in our schools. In particular, parents and guardians of Washington’s K-12 students see a multitude of paths forward for their children following high school. Many feel that their children are likely to do something other than a 4-year college track after graduation. This includes direct entry into the workforce, community college, or a vocational program. Core Plus provides a pathway for these students unlike any other.

Created in consultation with local companies in the maritime, construction and aerospace industries, Core Plus offers a firsthand glimpse for students into career paths that may suit their interests and serve their long-term goals. The industry partners who support Core Plus not only help shape the program, they also hire many of the graduates who complete it — providing access to internships, apprenticeships and job opportunities. Students get real time engagement with professionals in these industries, learning vital skills while exploring potential careers with high demand jobs that pay well.

Our students deserve the opportunity to explore their interests as they learn. As education leaders, it’s our job to offer these kinds of experiences for every student in Washington, no matter what they dream of for their future. It is also our job to prepare our students for success in their next steps after high school. That’s why Core Plus is a program we believe in. We encourage educators to embrace this learning pathway as they work to support their students’ academic outcomes.

Schools across the state have an opportunity to start or expand their Core Plus programs right now. The state Legislature approved Core Plus as one of multiple pathways to graduation, and allocated funds to be distributed across the state to start, maintain or expand Core Plus programs. Grant applications are available through the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) now until October.

Together, we can create vibrant learning environments and experiences that serve every student.