When Pathways Innovation Center opened in 2016, administrators promised great things. It would serve 1,000 high school students in the district – 500 in the morning and 500 in the afternoon. It would be a place for 11th and 12th graders to learn skills for all of those jobs that are often not addressed in more traditional school settings. Teachers would be called mentors and coaches, and subject areas would be taught together as parts of projects.
And the $24-million, 83,000-square-foot building is beautiful. It is state of the art with centers that focus on everything from architecture and engineering to health sciences and human services. But what it doesn’t have – and never really did have – is students.
The school started with 300 students, and had only 138 enrolled by last week, plus 83 in the Star Lane Center. Those numbers aren’t great, even for a school in a town with a dwindling population.
As district officials work through plan B and C and D for what to do with the facility, we think they need to ask themselves a much more basic question: Why don’t students know more about Pathways?
District surveys show a full year after the school opened, only about 36 percent of students are familiar with Pathways and what it does. Most students asked by a reporter Friday hadn’t heard of it, and one even thought the reporter was talking about the Hathaway Scholarship.
How can students be expected to choose the different track if they don’t even know it’s there?
Natrona County High School’s principal said recently that those who came up with the original idea for PIC – as it is often called – had “great intentions.” They thought it would draw plenty of students.
And maybe it could have. But those students first needed to know it existed.
Fast forward to this fall, when school leaders have voted to close four schools because of dropping district enrollment, and it becomes even more imperative to figure out the purpose of that brand new school.
Officials have decided that students in the district just aren’t interested in project-based learning, even though in early 2016 they said the school would need four years to hit full capacity. Now they say there will never be that high of a demand for “four-period, integrated academies,” so they are doing away with the concept. What will happen in its place is still up in the air.
Maybe there aren’t 1,000 high schoolers in the district who want to learn through projects. But how can district leaders know for sure if less than 40 percent of students are even familiar with it as an option?
We would ask that as the district readies to change Pathways once more, it considers the more basic problem of marketing and public information.
Work with teachers and counselors to provide them with information and materials about Pathways, or whatever option is next, to pass along to students. And before you ask students to choose something else completely, make sure the teens all know their choices.