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2016 April 10 - 05:06 pm

Miss. School District Creating Career Academies

Colleges Creating Dual Enrollment Programs To Promote Career Pathways

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — One of the biggest reasons students drop out of high school is due to relevancy, and the Vicksburg Warren School District is revolutionizing its approach to combat the issue. Career and Technical Administrator Lucy DeRossette said students need to see why subject material is relevant to something important, such as gaining employment to keep them engaged.

“We’re teaching our kids like my grandmother learned with 20 kids in a classroom in five rows like little factory workers,” she said. “We now realize we can bring that relevance into the classroom and make it much more enjoyable if we focus it around a career theme.”

To do this, the district is in the process of introducing career academies over the next three years.

The first part, a keystone class where students first learn about the 16 different job clusters is being taught to ninth graders this year, but next year it will be taught to both eighth and ninth graders, followed by only eighth graders the following year (2017-2018 school year).

After taking the keystone class, students will go into one of three specialized divisions: ACME (architecture, construction, mechatronics and engineering), CAB (communication, arts and business) or HHS (health and human services).

DeRossette said career academies bring the best of every part of education.

“They bring the thematic element of elementary school, because you know elementary teachers are awesome at doing themed projects,” she said.

From the high school level, teachers bring the appropriate subject matter and in college the focus of having a major, DeRossette added.

“What this does is it takes the thematic unit from elementary, the teaming from junior high, the subject matter from high school and the focus from college and brings it all into the high school,” she said. “It brings that relevance.”

VWSD Superintendent Chad Shealy said there would be full pathways in each of the three segments with the ultimate goal of leading to employment.

“For example, in ACME, you’ve got pathways of architecture, construction, mechatronics and engineering,” he said.

The strands in the pathways will all be connected, and the students will all be learning together.

VWSD Board of Trustees President Bryan Pratt said not all students are going to college, but that’s the way the current education system measures success.

“College is an integral part of advancing your education and will greatly impact your earning potential in the future, but there are also some very good paying jobs out there,” he said.

Now that VWSD is a District of Innovation through the Mississippi Department of Education, there are several benefits available relating to the career academies.

The district is able to bring in working professionals to teach students without having a traditional teaching certificate.

Students are also able to start internships by their junior year through a seat-time waiver, meaning they will not be required to follow the state regulations requiring students to spend an allotted amount of time in the classroom setting.

Another benefit from the District of Innovation status is the ability for students to get up to six high school credits while in junior high school, allowing them to pursue advanced studies later in high school.

The district is working with Alcorn State University and Hinds Community College to secure at least four free dual credit classes for each student interested in pursuing this option.

By 2018, students will be graduating from the Vicksburg Warren School District with associate degrees or two years worth of college credits that can be transferred to a four-year university.

Pratt said the strategy not only increases relevancy, but it saves students and their parents time and money in the future.

“It really goes back to trying to help children decide what they would like to do as they move forward and letting them make a decision and change their decision before they spend four years or two years in college trying to find out they don’t want to go into the medical field, either as a medical technician or as a doctor,” Pratt said.

The academies are set up to be flexible in the event a child rules out a particular future career path. Rather than students being forced to choose a future career at 13 or 14, they’re actually exploring potential career paths where they can either get a head start or rule out the career choice early on.

Pratt has called the academy system a great partnership with the community and local industries to build the workforces they’ll need for tomorrow.

“We’re creating those engineer technicians and engineers for ERDC and the medical technicians and nurses and doctors for hospitals and preparing our children for their future,” he said.

Shealy said the district has already seen success with this model through working with local government and industry.

“Once we started talking to businesses, we found out they needed more firemen and EMTs,” he said. “In order to get more, they dropped the age down to 18, and we went in and got it to where I kids can get an EMT certification for free and go straight into the force. We did the same thing with LPNs.”

Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jane Flowers said everything is going to hinge on the participation of business and industry.

“It’s a real partnership,” she said.

“I was in career and technical education for 30 years working with this community, and they have always supported getting good students.”

Hinds Community College Vicksburg Campus Dean Marvin Moak said the Vicksburg Warren School District has been great to work with and he’s looking forward to a long-term relationship.

Moak said this is a huge opportunity for the Vicksburg and Warren County community. “No other community in the state of Mississippi has a partnership like the one the district and Hinds have developed.” Information from The Vicksburg Post, www.vicksburgpost.com


Also from AUSTIN VINING, THE VICKSBURG POST

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