By Jennifer Wohlleb
Working hand in hand with local leaders of business, industry and higher education, the Kenton County school district is providing its students with a direct path to a career through its Academies of Innovation and Technology.
By researching the regional job outlook and students’ interests, the district created six academies to supply that pipeline.
PHOTO: Students in the High Performance Production Technology Academy located at Simon Kenton High School work on a project.
“Our criteria for the academies are those jobs that are going to be some of the largest-growing occupational groups, but also where the wage would be something that could sustain a family,” said Kenton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Terri Cox-Cruey.
In its second year, Kenton County Schools Academies of Innovation and Technology is the latest recipient of KSBA’s PEAK (Public Education Achieves in Kentucky) Award. The PEAK Award was established in 1997 to focus statewide attention on outstanding public school efforts that enhance student learning skills and promote the positive impact of public elementary and secondary education in Kentucky.
“If the student can explore careers in high school and get in a field where they are successful, we’ve accomplished three things: They are now interested in getting educated; they have a pathway that they are naturally successful in because they can see where they are going; and they’re not going to consume all this time and money trying to decide between graduation and 25 what they really want to be and start at 25 and get there by 30,” said Kenton County school board Vice Chairman Carl Wicklund. “They’re going to be there by the time they are 20-23, so we are giving them a 10-year head start in life.”
Enrollment in the three-year program nearly doubled this year. Students spend half a day in their regular classes and the other half at the academy of their choice, which may be located at one of Kenton County’s three high schools or its Edgewood campus, a former area technology center. The district transports them if the academy is not at their home school.
The academies are Biomedical Sciences, Sustainable Energy Technology Engineering, High Performance Production Technology, Engineering, Media Arts and Informatics.
Cox-Cruey said research projects and presentations are a large part of the academies’ curriculum, particularly during the sophomore and junior years. In their senior year, students have a personalized learning plan that may feature an apprenticeship, job shadowing, projects-based learning or an internship. Dual credit is available throughout the program.
Each academy has its own advisory group made up of business, manufacturing professionals and area educators who not only helped create the curriculum but work directly with students.
“The students are very mature because they are being taught how you interact in a professional manner,” Cox-Cruey said. “You have advisory panels, from manufacturing, business, definitely from universities, and you present what your research is and they start asking you questions, like what you would typically think of at a college level: have you thought of this, have you thought of that, are you going to do this? And the kids have to answer those kinds of questions on their feet.”
Because of the emphasis on presentations, academy students have different report cards.
“One area is content, but the other six areas (critical thinking, writing mechanics, work ethic, collaboration, projects and presentation) are what really make our scholars a cut above the rest,” Brian Noll, a math teacher in the Biomedical Sciences Academy, wrote in his endorsement of the program for the PEAK Award. “Being able to see scholars achieve a level of success that at times surprises them and their own family, lets me know how much of an impact (the academy) has on the lives of young people.”
Zach Major, a student in the Sustainable Energy Technology Engineering Academy, said the flexibility of the academies is one of its secrets to success.
“Our three class lengths can be adjusted for what the teachers and students need,” he wrote. “This is a refreshing change of pace and a reflection of the flexible work day we will experience in the future … the academies focus on making work become successful, fun and interesting…”
Kenton County also has created an ambassador program to help manufacturers counteract the misconception that factories are dark, dirty places. Students in the high performance technology production academy were selected to spend a week in the summer at a large area factory, followed by a week at Gateway Community and Technical College learning how to use machinery in that industry. Those students talk to other students about manufacturing and make presentations, which in some cases have led to scholarships from area industries.
“The manufacturers have really embraced this idea that we’ve got kids now in the pipeline who are helping us figure out what skills they need to have to advance and we’re helping them get the word out that there are these jobs out there and they’re great jobs,” Cox-Cruey said.
She said the district expects the academies to continue to grow and possibly expand into other areas. In the first year, about 200 students were enrolled. There are 370 in the program this year, with a capacity for up to 750 students.
“It’s really preparing them for the real world and it’s providing a networking opportunity for some of them,” she said. “We are so fortunate that we have people in our community who find this worth their time to really invest in our students.”
– The deadline for entering the next PEAK Award cycle is March 3. For more information, go to www.ksba.org/PEAK.aspx