A woman teaches a class of kids

The teaching apprenticeship program in Grayson County has helped teachers like Ashley Dotson get their start in the education field. Submitted photo

Finding a career in education has been a passion for Ashley Dotson since her junior year of high school.

Now on track to graduate in May of 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in education, Dotson gives thanks to the apprenticeship program Grayson County High School provided when she was a student.

“Just being able to interact with different teachers and seeing different ways that they go about things throughout the school day, it was a great and positive experience for me,” said Dotson.

Grayson County High School Assistant Principal Matthew Hayes said the apprenticeship program was created to help Dotson and future students pursue a career in education by giving her real-life and hands-on experiences before graduation.

“It’s just a win-win across the board,” said Hayes. “At the end of the day, her senior year, she’s going to get the co-op with a wonderful teacher. She’s going to get paid to try to figure out if she wants to be a teacher.”

Working with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and its Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) youth apprenticeship program, Hayes created an education track for Dotson to enroll in.

Hayes said there wasn’t really a program in place for students like Dotson, so he met with Dotson’s family and with the help from KDE, they created a track that would give Dotson hands on experience.

 “We just kind of did all of this on blind faith,” said Hayes.

TRACK is a partnership between the KDE Office of Career and Technical Education and the Kentucky Office of Apprenticeship to provide secondary students with career pathway opportunities into Registered Apprenticeship programs.

Employers tailor the program to their specific needs and select the Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses for the apprenticeship pathway. This creates a competitive recruiting environment for future employees grounded in strong technical and professional skills.

The teacher apprenticeship track in Grayson County has recently become a partnership with Western Kentucky University (WKU). While the students are in high school, they can enroll in the teacher apprenticeship track which includes six courses for students to learn the basic skills of becoming an educator, such as creating lesson plans and then implementing them, as well as learning the education standards in lieu of that WKU teaches.

Throughout the program, Dotson said she was able to apply the knowledge learned in the classroom like the education standards in addition to learning about herself and where she wanted to narrow her focus of study upon graduation.

“I was unsure of what level of like kids I wanted to teach, so I was placed in the middle school here for an after-school program that was in my comfort zone,” said Dotson. “I did that for a year and then I decided middle school wasn’t my thing.”

Hayes said the youth apprenticeship program not only helps students like Dotson get a jump start on their careers in education, but it also helps teachers who are currently in the industry.

“We’re having a tough time finding aides for our teachers. Then we thought, here is someone trained in the standards, we’ve got apprentices so let them get in there and do what they’ve been trained to do,” said Hayes. “It’s all about the opportunity and exposure.”

TRACK includes a wide variety of business and industry-driven programs designed to create a pipeline for students to enter post-secondary apprenticeship training.

Homer Prior, a graduate of Fairdale High School (Jefferson County), is pursuing a career in heavy equipment operations.

Throughout high school, Prior took a CTE pathway that allowed him to explore this industry after graduation.

“We had some smaller equipment at the high school, a couple of excavators and skid steers and some tractors, so you just kind of got a little taste of it but it is nothing like it is in the real world,” said Prior.

After completing the CTE pathway and passing a pretest in the track program, Prior was able to have direct access to the International Union of Engineers Local (IUOE) apprenticeship program. Site Manager Paul Novak said the Local 181 apprenticeship and training program works to get people ready to work on the job sites, complete their required certifications and help them find opportunities.

“And once they graduate, then is when we kind of take over with them and we bring them in if they need anything, first aid, CPR if they need OSHA 10 or, you know any certifications, then we start pushing that at that point,” said Novak.

Novak said it’s a 6,000-hour apprenticeship program that generally takes about three to three and half years to complete, depending upon the individual and how many on-the-job hours they get.

“Once they enter into the program, they are actually allowed to go out on those jobs and work,” said Novak. “While they’re learning, they’re earning money, so they are able to go out there and do that.”

Novak said the training centers offer year-round training for Local 181 members to brush up on skills and become certified in required or new skills. He said they could also use the training sites to become certified in equipment that companies require operating engineers to obtain before they can work at their facility.

Prior said this program has given him a jump start into this industry and has allowed him to make connections and build relationships.

“We’ve all kind of got the same attitude,” said Prior. “We’re there to work and we enjoy it while we’re there. I’ve got probably a dozen phone numbers in my phone that if I broke down on the side of the road, they’d be coming to help me in an instant.”