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DHS to implement career-based academies

After receiving mostly positive feedback on a staff survey, Dickinson High School will move forward with creating an academy model for classes, which places students into career-based groups similar to colleges. The planning is in its early stages and could take a couple of years to fully implement.

"Next step is we have to make a plan of what it's going to look like, get it going, present it to the school board, school board approves it and then finalize our plans," said Kevin Hoherz, principal at DHS.

Dickinson Public School Superintendent Shon Hocker said he would like to see the decision made before constructing a new building, so the designers can take it into account when finalizing plans. However, he said it will not create a future scenario like the pods, which were a design element of an outdated instructional model. Mostly, the academies would affect the location of some of the classrooms.

"It might be more convenient for the English teacher who might be teaching in the medical academy to be nearer to most of the medical courses," he said.

Some of the school district members, including Hoherz, took a tour of Alexandria Area High School, which operates under the academy model.

The school has four academies, the first of which all ninth-graders belong to—freshman exploration, which allows freshman to take a variety of courses to see what academy might interest them. During their sophomore year, students pick one of the following three academies, which they stay in for the remainder of their high school years: Business, Communication and Entrepreneurship; Engineering, Manufacturing Technologies and Natural Resources; and Health Sciences and Human Services.

Within those academies are various pathways that further concentrate their classes. Students in all academies still take core classes.

Dickinson High is exploring that basic concept, though it hasn't decided how many and specifically what academies and pathways it will offer.

Hoherz said that their students will not be strictly confined in the academies.

"Students will still be able to take just electives like band, choir, art," he said. "If they're even in this one pathway, it's not that they can't take a class from a different pathway if that's what their interest is."

Hoherz likened the structure of class schedules to that of college. In college, students choose a major which has required courses and recommended electives, but students are welcome to choose classes outside of their major as well.

"Everything is open to the students," he said. "It's just going to give them more of a direction."

Hoherz and Hocker stressed that community involvement is a big part of the academy structure and that it provides students with hands-on experience.

"(The academy model) opens doors for kids to have some potential great hands-on work experiences," Hocker said. "It brings in the expertise of many of our local big businesses, our manufacturers, to come in and start to be able to train some of our kiddos right in high school."

Hoherz said this experience will also help students decide if this is a career they might truly want in the future.

"You're going to get to college, you're going to have some kids who try it and say it's not for me, but hopefully we have less of that, of students going to college and after the second year saying I want to switch majors," he said.