With increased academic demands placed on the high school curriculum as well as shrinking dollars, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for school districts to offer career-oriented programs. Through the pooling of resources and instructional personnel, school districts can provide more educational options to students than they can offer individually. A career academy provides the opportunity for students from different school districts to attend classes at a shared location and enroll in college-level programming that promotes educational opportunities beyond district lines to supplement, not supplant, participation in traditional high school courses.
In the fall of 2014. the first Iowa Central Regional Career Academy will open and begin offering career and technical programs to high school juniors and seniors through partnerships with Clarion-Goldfield, Eagle Grove, Fort Dodge, Webster City and Northeast Hamilton area school districts. This academy will serve as a catalyst for college and career exploration, certification, and degree attainment for 21st century learners to become globally competitive and regionally ready for the future.
Neale Adams, dean of business and industrial technology, worked closely with area superintendents in the development of this career academy concept. A large hurdle to the establishment of the academy was finding a suitable physical location. When the abandoned Eagle Grove National Guard Armory became available, it was determined to be a good fit for the needs of the academy as this facility had classrooms, an adequate number of restrooms, a kitchen and large open shop areas that could be used for industrial training. The Eagle Grove site was also centrally located so the majority of students would be able to reach the academy in less than 30 minutes.
The academy programs are designed to enhance foundational skills learned from successful secondary career technical and core academic programming provided within the K-12 school districts. To assure the smooth transition of students into the academy, high school principals and guidance counselors have participated in development of the academy curriculum. Currently Iowa Central personnel are collaborating with area school staff members to develop a core curriculum for the first two years of high school that will prepare students for entering into the regional academy. Local businesses and industries are also important partners in providing the expertise and guidance necessary to assure the academy is delivering next generation learning opportunities for skilled labor needs within our region.
In the first year of the academy, the curriculum will include Bio-Process Technology and Business Pathways. With the emergence of new and the expansion of exciting industry in the area, bio and process technology is a career pathway that has numerous possibilities for the student who wishes to live and work in a location close to home. This pathway will introduce the fundamental skills and knowledge encompassed in the manufacture of biologically based products in bio refinery, and renewable energy manufacturing plants. Students will also gain a basic understanding of the analytical skills needed for predictive and preventive maintenance necessary to provide quality mechanical support. The business career pathway is designed for those students interested in the fields of accounting, business, economics, management or marketing. This program consists of a well-rounded curriculum that hosts numerous core business classes that transfer directly to either the Associate of Arts or Associate of Applied Science degrees at Iowa Central, or into any business program at a four-year university or college.
Planned career pathways for the future will require infrastructure modifications to the Eagle Grove National Guard Armory. Completion of these construction projects will facilitate the addition of Engineering Technology, General Education, Manufacturing Technology and a Teacher Academy into the fall of 2015 curriculum. All new pathways will be designed to give students a head start on a career path by ensuring seamless transferability for liberal arts based programming and foundational coursework in technical career programs.
Over the course of two years students accepted into the Regional Career Academy may participate in two different career pathways. When enrolling, the student will be committing to a career pathway for the full academic year. Students will travel to the Regional Career Academy five days a week to take classes from 8:30 to 11:20 a.m. each day. Each yearlong career pathway consists of courses that will provide the skills and academic foundation necessary to assist the student's future career planning. Students will be able to either transfer these college credits into an academic program at the post-secondary level or use gained knowledge and skills to seek employment. For the students planning to continue their education, these pathways are designed to give flexibility of choice by preparing them for entry into multiple college programs. Some pathways will incorporate national credentialing where available and applicable, such as the National Career Readiness Certificate. Through the Iowa Central Intermediary Program students will also have the opportunity to participate in industry tours, access to guest speakers and possible job shadowing, as well as college visits and career fairs.
College credits received while attending the academy can result in a potential saving in both time and money when it comes to entering an academic program at the post-secondary level. Based on 2013-14 Iowa Central tuition rates, students can save themselves and their parents between $1,963 (13 credits) and $3,020 (20 credits) for each year attended at the academy. Additional savings on textbooks, materials and supplies which can average between $400 and $1,000 a year, depending on the career pathway. In addition, all students who complete a minimum of one career pathway will be issued a $500 career academy scholarship that can be used if they enroll as a full-time college student at Iowa Central Community College after their high school graduation.
David Grosland is vice president of instruction at Iowa Central Community College.