Vocational Education

Tyler Uhrich practices making welds during metal shop class on Oct. 27 at Natrona County High School in Casper. Construction, manufacturing and engineering courses will be offered at Pathways when the new school opens for the 2016-17 academic year.

Dan Cepeda, Star-Tribune

Teachers and administrators have a solid curriculum for Casper's newest high school, they told the district's board of trustees, but the exact courses and academic tracks offered will depend on the number of students who choose to enroll for the school's inaugural year.  

Teachers developing the curriculum for Pathways: The Academies of Natrona County presented semester lesson plans at the Natrona County Schools board meeting Monday, in response to concerns from some members that the new school's curriculum needed clarification.

Pathways will offer an alternative to the traditional classroom experience, proponents say. It was specifically designed to offer vocational training to students who may otherwise drop out of school and join the workforce.

But board members had expressed doubts about the school's untested teaching style. 

Pathways will offer collaborative classrooms, with multiple teachers of different disciplines. Students will still take core classes like language arts and U.S. history, which they need to graduate. However, those subjects will be taught in part through projects that incorporate subjects like digital media in the creative arts academy, or entrepreneurship in the business academy.

“I don’t see the process as being simple,” said Board Chairman David Applegate, who pushed for more concrete curriculum plans at the previous board meeting. “It’s difficult work, and that’s okay. To build these new schools and to deploy this curriculum has been a multi-year process.”

Pathways Principal Chad Sharpe said the board’s questions are important, but some answers, such as whether students can take courses at Pathways without enrolling in a full academy program, will depend on how many students are interested in that track. 

But the teachers maintained that as long as there are enough students interested in the different programs, the innovative curriculum will work.

“It’s a journey that all of us knew we were heading on. We built this entire program based on a lot of community involvement,” Sharpe said. “I think we’ve built something collectively. We’ve built something really cool for kids. Those kids that don’t want to attend this, they don’t have to. They can stay at their home school.”

Pathways will offer collaborative classrooms, with multiple teachers of different disciplines. Students will focus on projects rather than subjects. They will still take core classes like language arts or U.S. history, which they need to graduate. However, those subjects will be taught, in part, through projects that incorporate subjects like digital media in the creative arts academy or entrepreneurship in the business academy.

At full capacity, Pathways will teach 500 juniors and seniors in a morning block and another 500 in the afternoon. There are four academies planned, focusing on creative arts, business and agriculture, construction and engineering and health sciences. 

Students will be able to enroll in an academy for a half-day block while attending their regular high school the remainder of the day.

One of the obstacles in planning for Pathways is that enrollment numbers determine the number of full-time teachers assigned to each school in the district. 

Some academies will require up to 5 teachers to run a multi-disciplinary class. If an academy or course doesn’t receive enough interested students, it won't be able support the needed number of instructors and may need to be dropped, Sharpe said. 

By Feb. 26, students will be enrolled in their respective schools and courses for the coming academic year. At that point district resources, including full-time teachers, will be allocated, and Pathways will be able to cement its schedule, Sharpe said.

Molly Voris is the academy coach for Creative Arts, Communication and Design. Voris presented an overview of a year's curriculum at Monday’s meeting. 

The semester would begin with three weeks on a project that answers the question, “What inspires my art?” Voris said. Drawing from art history and American literature, students would then create a visual presentation and write an essay answering that question. The project would segue into portfolio work, which would continue throughout the semester. By October, students would begin another project with a different theme.

Follow education reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner.

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