“The future is now,” beamed Charles Murphy, principal of Anson High School, when asked his reaction to the new federal Youth Career-Connect Grant which the school system has received. “For years we have wanted to unite Career-Technical Education with academics to help students prepare for success in college and careers. With this grant funding we will now be able to provide the resources to advance their preparation in key STEM areas.”
Michael Freeman, Superintendent of Anson County Schools, agreed. “The Career-Connect: STEM Academy at Anson High School is an important step for high school education in Anson County,” he said. “We want our graduates prepared for continued success in college or the workforce when they leave us, and Career-Connect will help achieve that goal.”
Anson High School is one of only 24 grant recipients in the nation to receive a Youth Career-Connect Grant from the Department of Labor. Both Murphy and Freeman credited the collaborative planning team that designed and crafted the grant application that will bring over $2 million to Anson High School in the next four years to establish a Career-Connect: STEM Academy Program. The planning team included school district leaders, South Piedmont Community College leaders, local and regional leaders, and consultants experienced in innovative high school settings. Together this team designed the Career-Connect: STEM program that will begin this fall with 80 rising freshmen and grow into a full four-year program over the next four academic years serving over 300 students at Anson High.
“It was a true collaborative effort,” stated Murphy. “Our planning team put together an impressive project that convinced the Department of Labor that even though we are a small, low wealth, rural community, we can provide a high school experience for students that will strengthen the workforce and stimulate economic development while providing a quality education.”
Freeman explained that applicants had to prove that both higher education and business and industry were vitally connected to the high school project and, thus, to the students. “Through our positive relationship with Dr. Sidor and his staff at South Piedmont Community College,” stated Freeman, “we were able to present a sequence of college courses and certificates in each of the STEM areas of study that will lead our high school students to graduate with marketable career credentials.”
Freeman further explained that Career-Connect has five documented business partners who helped solidify the project design. Those partners are the Anson County Chamber of Commerce, Carolinas Healthcare System, Columbus-McKinnon, Hornwood, and Schaeffler Group USA.
“These partners will actively interact with Career-Connect students and teachers, providing a direct connection to real workplace experiences,” stated Freeman. The new AHS Career-Connect: STEM program will emphasize the four career focus areas of Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering, Information Technologies, and Medical and Biomedical Sciences. Students in Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering will complete a Project Lead The Way (PLTW) –Engineering curriculum, which was chosen for its nationally recognized achievement in preparing students to succeed in college and careers. The junior and senior years will include SPCC courses that result in college certificates in engineering, industrial maintenance, or mechatronics.
I.T. students will complete Microsoft Academy courses, Multimedia Web Design, and take industry assessments for credentials. Their junior and senior years include SPCC courses leading to certification in either Web Design, Operating Systems, or Computer Support. Medical students will immerse themselves first in the Biomedical Sciences curriculum of nationally-recognized Project Lead the Way, followed by certification courses through SPCC in Nurse Aide I and BLS/CPR, both of which are pre-requisites for application to most medical programs at the collegiate level. They will also take courses that lead to entry into a community college certificate, diploma, or degree program leading to a medical/biomedical field.
In each STEM academy, college credits will count toward a two-year degree, which students can continue after high school graduation. In grades 9-12, students can earn 18 or more semester hours of college credit, while the senior year will be almost entirely composed of college coursework aimed directly at earning certifications or degrees. College courses will be offered by SPCC instructors on the campus of Anson High School.
Many CAREER-CONNECT students will choose to continue their education beyond high school. However, some will choose to begin employment immediately after graduation because they have found their special interest area and learned the skills they need to perform a STEM job well.
“The features of Career-Connect earned the approval of the federal grants team at the U.S. Dept. of Labor because the entire prep package is impressive,” Freeman explained. The Career-Connect program will provide a team of teachers to develop academic and technical skills of students, free access to SPCC coursework, a project-based learning environment, strong career development elements, and industry involvement. Therefore, students who choose a Career-Connect Academy will be fast-tracked to credentials and college credits that count toward a two-year degree.”
Murphy stated that April 22 is an important date for entering freshmen because eighth-graders will turn in their form that day to indicate which high school they prefer attending. “I hope that eighth-graders and their parents will contact me or the counselors at Anson Middle or Anson High School to learn more about Career-Connect,” Murphy commented. “Next school year is the beginning of major transformation at Anson High School, and Career-Connect is the center of that change.”