Keeping it COOL: Students participate in hands-on career learning program


Leander ISD’s annual COOL Week, or Career Opportunities on Location, has become a rite of passage for career-oriented seniors within the district. Each year, the program provides students an opportunity to obtain hands-on experience in a field of work that interests them.

For more than two decades, hundreds of Leander ISD students have been assigned to more than 240 businesses in Central Texas and beyond. The program began with  Leander High School 23 years ago and expanded with the district's growth, now including all six current LISD high schools and businesses as far away as Seattle, Washington.

“We have businesses that have been with us since the beginning, such as Stantec, Moody Gardens, NOV, KVUE, and Emmis radio,” said LISD’s COOL Week coordinator Pat Lopez.

Participating companies host the students and allow them to shadow employes within the business, learning the ins and outs of what really goes on in their desired field of employment. The students gain experience and training in a variety of areas of expertise in their chosen career field. 

They can also elect to contact a business directly to secure a placement individually. However, Lopez said the students are responsible for working out every single detail of the assignment, such as their own travel costs and lodging, whether they’re driving, flying, staying in a hotel, motel or an AirBnB.

“They go all over Central Texas as well as Houston, Dallas, Manhattan and Seattle… locations both in and out of state.” Lopez said.

Since all six LISD high schools take part in COOL Week, assigning students to job sites can be competitive within each school’s group of seniors. LISD college and career transition coordinator Chriss Hexter explained that some students have a better chance of being placed in well-known business based on courses they have taken that pertain to the job at that business.

“We’re each very protective of our own students and every transition coordinator is looking out for the best interest of…[their] students,” Hexter said. “It does get a little competitive.”

After their COOL Week experiences, some students have been offered full time employment or internships at their business placements. Other students have come to the realization that they are not as interested in the careers they initially intended to pursue.

“I love seeing the students experiencing the hands on, real world things with a job they see themselves doing,” Tom Glenn High School college and career transitioner, Jennifer Sabrsula said. “COOL Week is such an awesome opportunity for our students to really get in the job and see for themselves if this is indeed what they want to do with their lives… This is one of the best parts of my job.”

Leander ISD officials say their program is unique among area school districts.

Neighboring Liberty Hill ISD has a career day in the fall, during which students can receive detailed information about future career options, said Bobby Mabry, who is that district’s director of human resources.

“Other districts have a Career Day or Groundhog Day where students shadow a business for a day,” said Lopez. “But I know of no other district that has the COOL Week model that we do in LISD.”

Beginning with the summer of 2018, Leander ISD expanded the program to give teachers the opportunity as well. This will be the second year that LISD has offered COOL Week for teachers. Middle school and high school teachers have the opportunity to go to a job site in the summer for three days where they can see how their curriculum is applied in the workplace. 

Teachers receive a stipend through a grant from Rural Capital Area Texas Workforce Solutions. Last summer, 24 teachers participated, and LISD is planning for 50 this summer.

The placements for students in the program are dependent upon community connections. If you are interested in sponsoring COOL Week students for 2020, please contact the LISD COOL Week Coordinator Pat Lopez at pat.lopez@leanderisd.org.s