North Thurston Public Schools (NTPS) is now accepting applications for an exciting new high school program set to start this September. Envision Career Academy (ECA) will focus on Career and Technical Education (CTE) and prepare students to enter directly into the work force, military, trade school or vocational school right after graduation.

Students will be trained on equipment like this metal and wire bending machine in the manufacturing and horticulture courses at Envision. Photo courtesy: North Thurston Public Schools

ECA is a project-based learning school that uses a team-teaching model. Cross-disciplinary pairs of teachers will lead 45 to 60 students through hands-on projects that combine two areas of study. Every six weeks, students will change their teachers and their project course. The exception is math class. Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1 and Geometry are taught traditionally and throughout the school year.

The first two cohorts will consist of 150 9th and 10th grade students. Students will learn through projects in four graduation pathways: business, marketing, horticulture and aerospace manufacturing. A fifth pathway, biomedical science, will be added in the 2021-2022 school year.

In the first term , students will rotate through three cross-disciplinary six-week project courses including “Ground, Grain & Grind,” a study in business math and horticulture; “Flight or Fiction,” a study in manufacturing and American literature; and “Outside-In: Creating a Culture of Community,” a world studies and English course.

“We are coming up with really creative ways to do hands-on learning, but still develop traditional reading and writing skills,” says Envision Career Academy Principal Angela Grizzle.

As students progress through the program, they will hone their interests. As juniors and seniors, they will have the opportunity to seek out mentorships and internships in the local business community. Brad Hooper, NTPS’s director of Career and Technical Education, is particularly excited about the manufacturing component of the new program. The focus on aerospace manufacturing comes from a partnership with Boeing that only a handful of high schools in western Washington offer. Core Plus is a high school apprenticeship program created by Boeing to prepare young people to graduate from high school and step right into a career at an industrial manufacturing plant.

On a rainy day in early March, students construct the new greenhouse under the direction and supervision of the horticulture teacher. They consulted with experts in the community thanks to business partnerships to ensure the design was sound. Photo courtesy: North Thurston Public Schools

Hooper introduced Core Plus at Capital High School a number of years ago, prior to coming on at NTPS. “It gives kids the opportunity to get a job right out of high school that pays really well,” he explains. “It’s entry level, yes, but it’s much more than broom work.” Hooper also notes that Core Plus does not limit students strictly to aerospace manufacturing once they’re done. The program teaches skills that apply to manufacturing in a variety of sectors. “Core Plus is the vehicle to get them there, but there are many different off ramps a student can take.”

Learning will take place in a facility that has already been developed with a strong CTE program in mind: South Sound High School. The facility on College Street has a greenhouse and a school garden, computer and design labs, areas for discussion and quiet learning, a T-shirt production space and even a brand-new coffee cart. While there is space for the manufacturing coursework, necessary enhancements such as sound deadening and the addition of a pressurized air system are being installed.

South Sound High School will graduate its last class of seniors this June. It was NTPS’s alternative high school of choice for about 180 credit-deficient juniors and seniors at a time. “The idea of Envision is that we’re going to offer such engaging, innovative curriculum that students in our district won’t get credit deficient in the first place,” Principal Grizzle explains. “They will spend their time at ECA and not need to get caught up in credits because they won’t get behind.”

CTE students took a field to the Batdorf & Bronson roasting and tasting room. Batdorf & Bronson participates in the districts Partners in Education (PIE) program and offers barista training to students who will run the coffee cart. Photo courtesy: North Thurston Public Schools

“This district is extremely supportive of CTE,” Hooper says. “This program will be successful because there is just so much support behind it.” He goes on to explain that there are over 70 CTE instructors at schools across the district, ensuring that teachers in the new program will never have to confront a challenge alone. It helps that instructors and administrators of the new program have a champion at the very top. The idea for the program originated about three years ago when Dr. Debra Clemens, superintendent of NTPS, called for a greater emphasis on CTE throughout the district.

Grizzle expects more than 150 applications for the program to arrive before the extended May 1 deadline. She and her team have planned for a lottery drawing to determine which of next fall’s ninth and tenth graders will be admitted to the program. Applications are available on the NTPS website and can be filled out online or printed and mailed in. The lottery drawing will take place on May 4 and notification letters will be mailed on May 5.

The Thurston County community can now look forward to spring 2023, when ECA will graduate its first class of seniors fully prepared to step into their careers.  For more information email agrizzle@nthurston.k12.wa.us.

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