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Welding Student at Elevate Academy

Next Step Ready

Elevate Academy supports first graduating class beyond high school

by Lindsay Trombly


Elevate Academy, a Caldwell-based Career Tech school for grades 6-12, expects students to be Next Step Ready by showing up, being present, being flexible, being a team player and having pride in their work. To meet their mission for “all students to take responsibility for leading their own lives and studying a career track that may include vocational and college paths or a combination thereof,” the team at Elevate has developed the ‘80 for 80’ program – supporting the school’s senior class of 80 students in making plans that will carry them to success beyond graduation.

Whether it’s career, military, college or a combination — through ‘80 for 80’, staff guide and support students in making these key decisions for their future.

According to Elevate’s Career Placement Coordinator Brett Williams, Elevate Academy Founders Matt Strong and Monica White work closely with him to ensure “all 80 kids know exactly what they are doing [after graduation].” Williams is leading the ‘80 for 80’ program and described it as a way for high school seniors to set goals for their future while being accountable to themselves and their classmates. He set up a floor-to-ceiling white board in the senior hallway. Every senior’s name has a space on the bottom of the board. Once they decide the path they are taking beyond graduation, and commit to taking the next steps, their name will move up on the board. It’s akin to college draft day; their names will be accompanied by details indicating their next steps, and the date on which they made the decision.

Career Placement Coordinator Brett Williams stand by the 80 for 80 white board
Career Placement Coordinator, Brett Williams, looks up with anticipation as he imagines the board fill with Elevate student names.

“The idea behind that [the whiteboard] is multiple. Number one, excitement for the kids who are doing it and building them up and building their confidence,” Williams said. “As well as, all the way to the 6th-graders – this is the culture of Elevate and this is about the bigger step. The bigger picture.”

Williams said it’s a unique process for each student, but at its most essential, “it’s helping students figure out where they are going by having those (sometimes) tough conversations, and asking the why behind their decisions to make sure they are pursuing a path which will fulfill them. Then it’s breaking down the end goal into measurable, short-term targets.”

Williams shared, “Elevate was built to place students in jobs. They may know what they want to do, but don’t know what steps they need to take to get to their ultimate goal.”

Already, there are students like senior Katie Martinez, who have plans in place for after graduation.

Williams wants to have a signing day in the spring where local businesses (and future employers) can attend and celebrate students who have made their post-graduation commitments.

“If they know where they are going and what they are going to do, it’s going to reduce the amount of tension and stress that they have in their life. The jobs or college — those are big deals,” Williams said.

Williams continued, “With me as the Career Placement Coordinator and this program, that’s going to be able to support them to do something different. To take that next step and don’t feel like they are doing it all on their own. That they have support and a team that’s behind them.”

Elevate teaches students life skills, ranging from public speaking while students are in middle school — to creating a well-rounded portfolio to demonstrate their growth and show potential employers the skills they have mastered at Elevate.

“This school isn’t here for the sake of adults; this school is here for the sake of our students’ next steps. What are you going to do when you graduate from here. Even though there is learning in these walls, we work at how they can take this knowledge and apply it outside,” Williams said. Answering the question, “how am I going to use this in life?”


Part of Williams’ job is to connect students with meaningful work experience and potential long-term career opportunities. He does this by collaborating with local employers to create apprenticeships and internship opportunities where students can, not only, get hands-on work experience within their trades but also build relationships with business owners in the community. Such is the case for one Elevate senior, Mario Cabrera-Navarro, who Williams connected to an internship opportunity at Steelhead Metal Corp.

The partnership with Elevate began three to four months ago when Don Thornton, owner of Steelhead, was introduced to Elevate’s Matt Strong and Monica White.

“I think what they are doing with the kids in teaching them, and keeping them focused, and that they have a goal even before they graduate — it’s amazing to see that,” Thornton said. “To see how focused they are, how respectful they are, they have the same values as me.”

The alignment of values was so strong that Thornton even collaborated with White to make an extra-large copy of Elevate’s Next Step Ready values to hang in the shop at Steelhead.

He welcomes Elevate students to tour the shop at Steelhead, and is working towards bringing in industry professionals from his business to pass along knowledge and skills to students.

Monica and Don stand at Steelhead with the Next Step Ready Sign
Owner of Steelhead, Don Thornton stands next to his Next Step Ready sign with Founder of Elevate Monica White beside him. Courtesy photo from Monica White.

Elevate’s partnership with Steelhead has opened a door to internship opportunities for students that will continue, and he said in the long run, this will help them recruit for his own business. But even if students choose not to work for Steelhead, he said it’s an important stepping stone for students to get real-life work experience.

“It’s valuable for students because they are going to learn a trade – whether it’s working for Steelhead or some other machine shop, and it will also teach them metalwork skills,” Thornton said. “And workplace skills in general.”


At Elevate, it’s not just Williams supporting students to be Next Step Ready. The entire team wants to see every student succeed during their schooling and after they graduate, moving into their work lives.

“I think it’s important for them to be Next Step Ready so that they have a plan when they leave here. Our seniors, as part of their graduation requirement, they have to come up with a plan and be prepared to execute that plan. The Next Step Ready concept is, just, it doesn’t matter where you’re going, or what life throws at you, it’s having those skills to face those challenges and to overcome them is what it’s all about.” Math Teacher Armando De Leon said.

The ‘80 for 80’ program and being Next Step Ready go hand in hand for students, and the staff at Elevate recognize that fact.

“Both are important for molding students into future business owners, employees, students, and respectful members of our society,” Culinary Arts instructor Dakota Horsewood said. “Elevate isn’t blindly following a curriculum and hoping for the best. We are truly trying to shape kids with the help of the ‘80 for 80’ program and our core tenant of being Next Step Ready.”

In Greg Cocozza’s Construction class, part of being Next Step Ready is working with his students to help build their portfolio so they have work to show potential employers.

Construction Instructor Greg Cocozza helps a student in class
Construction Instructor Greg Cocozza helps a student in class.

“If you ask anybody in industry what they need from somebody –  for example in construction –  they want someone who can count on a tape measure, work eight hours….Being Next Step Ready is paramount in whatever trade,” Cocozza said.

Elevate’s CTE model allows students to connect their academic curriculum to their hands-on work in their career track classes, so students can see exactly how the learning is relevant to their lives. Elevate developed this learning model based on the decades of experience Strong and White bring as veteran educators serving a vulnerable population of students who weren’t finding success in traditional school models. Elevate’s science teacher, Meggan Laughrey, provided an example of this collaboration:

“It’s not about curriculum out of a book…It’s about what are they coming away with,” Laughrey said. “Yeah that’s great you can get an A on the test but can you actually go out into the shop and pick a wood that’s going to withstand this type of weather in this type of biome?”

Some members of the staff have been at the school since it opened and are proud of the progress they’ve witnessed in their students.

“Seeing the middle school kids now as high schoolers is really cool. Seeing how they’ve grown and developed. They have so many great traits; in their critical thinking skills, their leadership skills, how they are advocating for themselves and how they are able to face the challenges they are facing is really cool to see,” de Leon said.

Elevate was created to provide a meaningful education for students who struggled in a traditional setting, and to connect classroom learning with skilled trades that lead to job opportunities. Now, as their first full senior class prepares for launch, Elevate is helping them turn their spark into a flame.

Elevate Academy is a Bluum partner school and has received grant support from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and from Idaho’s Communities of Excellence federal Charter Schools Program grant.

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