By Wayne Dominick
Civic leaders in the Owensboro area were facing a problem. A new, modern health care center was under construction and there weren’t enough qualified people in the area to fill the expected employment opportunities. So they approached the Owensboro Independent and Daviess County school districts about adding courses to their curriculum that would provide the center with employees.
Instead of both districts scrambling to alter their course offerings, they came up with a novel approach: share resources to help interested students get the courses they needed.
PHOTO: Drama instructor Carolyn Greer (center, right) got into the act while Megan Gray, Madison Henderson and Aqualyn Williams worked on scene during class at Owensboro High School. Gray and Henderson are students at Hancock High School and attend class at Owensboro as members of the Community Campus program.
The result is the Community Campus, a program that allows students to take specialized courses at another school while maintaining status at their home school. The partnership also encompasses Hancock County High School and two private schools. While the initial idea was to provide biomedical courses, they ended up with more offerings in the form of career academies, emphasizing project-based learning.
“If we’re not giving our students every opportunity we possibly can, we might as well close our doors,” said Owensboro Independent Superintendent Dr. Larry Vick. “Competition is great on the field, but when it comes to educating students in this community we have to work together.”
Madison Silvert, executive director of Emerging Ventures Center for Innovation for the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation, said the Community Campus is essential to the area’s growth.
“This program is the link between education and economic development,” he said. “It allows the community to get the best the schools have to offer without having to use valuable resources duplicating efforts.”
This year, for example, students from Daviess County could take theater courses at Owensboro High School and students from Owensboro could attend Daviess County’s Apollo High School to take pre-engineering courses and participate in Project Lead the Way. Next year, specialized business and entrepreneur classes will be offered at Daviess County High School and Community Campus students will be able to enroll in a four-year biomed program that will include dual-credit courses at Owensboro Community and Technical College.
Silvert said the economic development group has agreed to provide space for an Entrepreneurial Center that will give students the opportunity to learn how to start and successfully operate their own business.
Daviess County school board Chairman Frank Riney said cooperation among districts makes fiscal sense.
“We’ve got to have the good sense and reason to come together,” he said. “Finances are tougher these days and when you can do things as a group to make things beneficial for students, that’s an approach we obviously need to look at.”
Owensboro school board Chairwoman Nancy Eskridge agrees, pointing to Owensboro High School’s theater as an example.
“We made a considerable investment in our Fine Arts Department and, as a result, have facilities that are second to none. It just doesn’t make sense to expect Daviess County to make that kind of investment in two schools when we can share what we have,” she said.
Participating districts share SEEK money depending on the Community Campus enrollment and courses. The program also has received grant money. Districts provide their own transportation although students use the public system when possible.
Owensboro junior Ryan Morales, who is in the engineering program, said the program requires some sacrifices. “Because of scheduling, I wasn’t able to take a couple of courses at OHS that I wanted to, but in the long run I think it’s worth it to be in the program,” he said.
Transportation and scheduling were problems for some of the Hancock County High School students, said Principal Rick Lasley. With the 35-45 minute travel time, he explained, “You’re almost a class worth in just getting there and a class worth back.”
However, the school plans to continue participating next school year. “I think our students gained quite a bit by moving beyond the walls of our own school,” Lasley said.
In its first year, Community Campus had 140 students, with districts about equally represented, said Marcia Carpenter, a Daviess County Schools administrator who oversees the program.
The program is selective, with an eye toward students who would be successful and dependable in this level of classes, she said.
Carpenter said the program is not intended to be a “brain drain” on the home schools or for students to lose their connection with their home school. “Some teachers were concerned that all the best students would leave and the programs at their schools would suffer,” she said.
According to Owensboro drama instructor Carolyn Greer, the opposite has happened. “Most of the students that have come to me from other schools are taking what they’re learning back and making their programs stronger. I truly believe a program like this helps everybody,” she said.
Aaron Yesier, who teaches the engineering program at Daviess County’s Apollo High School, said focusing enrollment on students who can succeed in college-level courses is important to teaching. “Although the maximum ability is different per student, the minimum standard is the same,” he said. “Thus, as a teacher I know at what level I can start my instruction.”
With the end of the school year, Carpenter said she will get together with teachers and administrators to discuss ways to improve the program and look at possible ways to expand it, particularly in the area of dual-credit courses.
— Dominick is a writer from Frankfort