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Students get first look at career opportunities
September 24, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

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Local school districts are taking the lead from the State of Nebraska in creating opportunities where students can learn both academics and technical skills to prepare them for the future.

Called “career academies,” high school courses introduce students to the work world and give them the hands-on training to become ready for the workforce upon graduation.

Gering High School Principal Eldon Hubbard said the idea of career academies has been in the schools for some time in the building and construction class and in the auto mechanics class.

“Our vocational programs, or career academies, have been around for some time,” Hubbard said. “Some schools have been in this for 20 years.”

Initially, the schools worked with Western Nebraska Community College to create some career academies based at the college. But Hubbard said taking those classes out of the high school environment changed the nature of what the goals should be. So about four years ago, the Legislature eliminated those types of classes, which gave rise to career academies based at the high school level.

“The technical skills part of the curriculum has to be a sequence of three classes with a capstone course,” Hubbard said. “For the construction class, they actually go out and build a house. It has to be a real career-based activity. We have a lot of that type of real world experience going on. We just need to formalize it into a career academy.”

Some of the areas students can choose include business marketing and management, human sciences and education, health sciences, skilled and technical sciences, communications and business systems, and agriculture, food and natural resources. Coursework starts in the Freshman Academy, so students can get into some of the introductory classes once they reach high school.

One of the courses started his year is Introduction to Medical Science. “We have 170 freshmen in the schools and more than 50 of them are taking that class,” Hubbard said. “A third of our freshmen are interested in medical science so we’re giving them a start.”
In addition to technical skills, academic skill courses are taught in context of the subject area. For medical science, it would include biology focused on medical science and anatomy and physiology.

The district is also developing a technical math class for construction and auto students, as well as a workplace technical writing course. “We give them the academic skills they need geared toward the occupation or job sequence they’re looking at,” Hubbard said. “We’re also looking at some dual credit courses with the college.”

Other partnerships for career academies include business professionals from the community to present overviews of their industries, which could lead to job shadowing, internships and even employment for students. So far, business people have been very willing to work with the schools.

“Historically, schools haven’t done the best job on career-based instruction,” Hubbard said. “We do a lot of skill building with the kids, but the career-based side isn’t as developed. We want to build that up and portray an accurate image of what they can expect in a particular career field.”

He added there are plenty of high-paying career paths that don’t require a four-year education. Some of the technical trades can be learned in 18 months. While about 75 percent of Gering graduates enroll in college, 60 percent of them will continue into their sophomore year.

“We still need to do a better job career-wise with that 60 percent,” Hubbard said. “But we have 35 to 40 percent of our kids that we want to get into career academies because they’re the ones going into the workforce. We want to make sure they’re ready for it so they can have more than just a job, but a career.”
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