Beloit Memorial hopes to keep buiding on vocational education success

Beloit Memorial hopes to keep buiding on vocational education success Main Photo

10 Jun 2024

BELOIT — When Beloit Memorial High School launched a career academy program in 2018-2019, math teacher Deb Prowse was among its most fervent advocates.

“When I was a student, I took marketing and distribution and drafting and architecture classes,” said Prowse, who graduated from BMHS in 1986. “I had a counselor tell me I shouldn’t be taking those kinds of classes because I was college-bound.

“I was incredibly shy. I wouldn’t look anyone in the eye unless I was on the athletic court,” Prowse remembered. “Those classes forced me to make presentations. They forced me to interview people and practice those skills. Those experiences made me a better teacher.”

At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, BMHS was looking for a career academy coach — someone not only to oversee and work with the various teachers in each academy, but to go into the business community to generate more opportunities for the students.

In her three years in the role, there has been definite progress. In 2020-2021, 16 BMHS students took part in the Youth Apprenticeship program.

This school year it increased to 38 and the goal for next year is 55. In 2021-2022, students earned 129 industry-recognized credentials. This year, it is expected to hit 200 after all of the testing is complete.

In 2022-2023, BMHS became the first school outside of Edgerton, where the program was created, to implement Craftsman With Character — a job shadow program where students spend part of the morning learning from different skilled tradesmen at six different area employers. The companies are some of the area’s top employers including Frito-Lay, Corporate Contractors Inc., Morse Group, City of Beloit, Fairbanks Morse Defense and Scot Forge of Clinton.

Prowse is retiring after 33 years as an educator and will be joining Craftsman With Characher Foundation, utilizing her skills in building relationships with businesses and students. She taught for nine years at Beloit Turner High School and the last 24 at BMHS.

“This will give me a chance to stay involved with the schools and the kids,” said Prowse, who will be the program implementation director for the Craftsman program. “When opportunities come along, they might not be the timeline you expect, but you go with it.”

Jeff Stenroos, School District of Beloit director of career and technical education and alternative education, credited Prowse not only with expanding the partnerships, but with sharpening the focus of the academies.

“When Deb took over, we had 33 or 34 different pathways for students to choose from,” said Stenroos, who came to Beloit in 2021. “It was overwhelming and confusing. She went through and cut it down to 14. Now, they are succinct and clear and that’s been a selling piece to both the students and our business partners.”

BMHS is ahead of the curve in a trend for high schools to place more emphasis on vocational training. According to, a 2022-2023 high school survey showed that 79% of students were interested in work-based learning, but only 34% were aware of any opportunities at their school.

In 2022-2023, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 24.6% of BMHS students took a work-based learning course. That was nearly three times the state average of 8.5%.

Prowse said she believes the momentum is such that the next person in her job will be able to continue to build.

“A lot of our kids are going to stay here or near here, especially if they see viable high-wage jobs that will allow them to buy a house and raise a family,” Prowse said.

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