Students interested in learning career-specific skills will have a new option in the Princeton School District.

Princeton Schools is rolling out new career-focused options for students. Called the Career Academies, the new program was presented to the school board April 20.

Since 2018 the district has been investigating how to redesign the high school. In the spring of 2019 Princeton Schools examined what skills students need to be successful, youth skills coordinator Jade Joseph said. From there the district considered the academy model, which has been implemented across several other school districts.

While examining other school districts that already had academy programs, the district learned about the benefits and challenges with this type of program. One stumbling block they saw across school districts was too many options for students from the get-go.

“A number of schools that rolled out academies initially had quite a few of them and then had to pull it back,” Joseph said. “That might have been because of lack of interest, lack of staffing, lack of just course availability. There were a number of reasons.”

The district initially planned to offer one or two academies, but has gotten ahead of schedule. Now it will offer six academies starting next fall. The academies are: business management and administration; information systems, communications and art; engineering, manufacturing and technology; health science; agriculture and natural resources; and human services.

“A big part of our goal was to make academies viable for all students — meaning students with a variety of abilities, a variety of interests, something that any student could do if they chose to,” Joseph said.

The academies are intended to help students connect with real-world experiences that are relevant to particular career fields.

Each academy contains three tiers — entry classes, intermediate classes and advanced achievement. Entry-level courses cover a variety of topics and can be taken by any student because they do not have prerequisites. Intermediate courses have prerequisite classes, or otherwise build on knowledge and skills learned from entry-level classes.

Students can choose to forgo any further advancement and are recognized as having graduated from the academy if they take at least four entry-level and two intermediate-level courses. If a student wants to continue, they can complete the advanced achievement requirements in their chosen academy.

The advanced achievement requirements include two pieces. One is a “youth skills training experience.”

“This might be an internship, some sort of on-the-job experience,” Joseph said.

Those function in collaboration with the district’s business partners. So far the school has established partnerships with Glenn Metal Craft and Crystal Cabinets.

The second requirement is a portfolio presentation the student must give to the youth skills coordinator and a teacher from the appropriate department. In the future, the presentations may include a representative who works in a related field, but the logistics are still be worked out to include them, according to Joseph.

The benefits from the academies are primarily the experience students receive. Graduating from the academy doesn’t carry a scholarship or an enhanced degree.

The academy could give some students a leg up for finding jobs in the chosen career path, according to Joseph, who sited several businesses interested in hiring students who go through the program.

“In talking to the two partners that we’ve collaborated with already, they’re really excited to see students in this internship-type experience,” Joseph said. “Some of these places are excited to hire students that are coming out of this and have already been on the job and have that experience.”

Students who have taken the proper classes to qualify for the advanced achievements are currently being identified by Princeton Schools. They will have the option to participate in the youth skills training experience next fall.

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