By CATHY FRYE
NORTH LITTLE ROCK – In mid-November, a group of students enrolled in North Little Rock High School’s Center of Excellence donned headlamps and set out to look for “earthquake survivors” in the midst of “rubble.”
That they were actually in a darkened classroom at school, rather than the scene of a natural disaster, didn’t deter the students’ enthusiasm.
For a group of high schoolers interested in becoming first-responders, such games of “let’s pretend” only serve to heighten their interest in careers they might not have otherwise considered.
Meanwhile, in a classroom designed to look like a clinic/hospital setting, students tended to their mannequin “patients” and practiced taking one another’s blood pressure.
One day later, yet another group of students headed to the Little Rock Veterans Healthcare System to get a better idea of what pharmacy technicians do.
The Center of Excellence, a conversion charter located within the sprawling high school, opened this school year. It offers six different pathways to students who may – or may not – pursue a college degree upon graduation.
Much of what’s happening at the COE is scrawled on a large whiteboard in Principal Karla Whisnant’s office. Here, she tracks this year’s progress even as she scribbles notes to remind her what she wants to embark upon next year.
For example, when the 2018-19 school year begins, students enrolled in the COE will take a six-week Intro to COE courses, which will introduce them to the conversion charter’s six career pathways:
- Medical Professions
- Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics
- Computer Science
The most popular pathway this year is Medical Professions, Whisnant says. One-half of the 400 students attending the conversion charter want to graduate with certifications that will allow them to immediately become either certified nursing assistants or pharmacy technicians.
These students still may pursue college degrees. Or, armed with certifications, they may immediately enter the workforce after graduation. Regardless, it’s Whisnant’s hope that by choosing career pathways before graduation, students will find their passion, and remain engaged in the workforce later down the road.
“They come out with a holistic viewpoint of the world – be it career or college,” she explains.
The COE – and the fact that industry leaders are participating in the program – recently caught the attention of U.S. Representative Virgina Foxx, who is the Chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Accompanied by U.S. Representative French Hill, Foxx toured the COE, where she dropped in on various classes and asked students about their experience thus far.
COE students can choose a traditional core curriculum, digital instruction, or a blended version of the two. The school is using the Summit Personalized Learning Platform, which is currently being piloted in 13 Arkansas schools.
“The rigor is here,” Whisnant says.”It’s self-paced, but it exists. And here, students can take risks without affecting their GPA.”
To learn more about the COE, click here to read the school’s conversion charter application, which was approved last year.