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Exploring careers in virtual center

The Roughrider Education Services Program and 10 public schools in the region have come together to work on sharing resources and offering more courses to the area's decreasing student population.

The Roughrider Education Services Program and 10 public schools in the region have come together to work on sharing resources and offering more courses to the area's decreasing student population.

The work has brought forth a grant application to help fund a new virtual career and technical education center called the Roughrider Career and Technology Center which would connect students in Dickinson, Beach, Hettinger, Richardton-Taylor, South Heart, Hebron, Glen Ullin, Killdeer, Belfield and New England.

The application was sent in November to the state, which is accepting two proposals for centers in the western area. The grant was part of a new funding package implemented by the Legislature at its last session. The schools find out in January whether or not they get the grant.

If they do, each school still is responsible for the technical equipment it needs to be part of the virtual center. The grant also provides funding assistance for the school, which needs help with a 75-25 split between the state and the school.

The center is a virtual delivery system which looks at using interactive television modules to connect classrooms without any physical traveling by staff or students. The center also provides a link to a new asynchronous system which allows teachers to record lectures or classroom lessons to be played back at any time.

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The development of this center grant has included surveys and delved into the needs of businesses, students, teachers and the community when it comes to technology and education.

Many school board members and superintendents see the virtual center as a win-win situation for all.

Developing the center

For Dickinson Public School Superintendent Dr. Paul Stremick and others, the virtual center means using resources already out there and offering more to students.

For superintendents Kelly Raasch of New England and Riley Mattson of South Heart, the grant to help fund the center also means the opportunity to get the technology their respective school needs.

"It means opening up more avenues for our students and the community," Mattson said. "We can then offer web classes for students and adult learning which gives our community the inside track."

It also is a step forward for smaller schools which need financial assistance to get something such as an interactive television lab.

For Raasch, the challenge is the timeline to acquire the ITV equipment by next fall.

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"There would be a lot that needs to get done," he said.

The center's design allows the 10 schools to fill a class together instead of leaving open slots, or not being able to offer a class due to low enrollment in a particular school.

"For example, if New England has an agriculture class with only seven students enrolled, why not fill that class with another eight students from say Glen Ullin to constitute it as a full class?" Stremick said.

You can't (physically) get a student from New England to Glen Ullin for a class like that, but with the virtual center it can work, he added.

"Also, when registration starts in December, our staff will discuss with students what they are interested in taking with the possible virtual center," Raasch said.

Another issue Stremick sees resolved by the virtual center includes bridging the gap between schools in different time zones using the asynchronous system of delivery.

"It's the way to go because then we all don't have to be identical (with schedules)," he said. "Some schools may be a basketball school and take time off for the basketball tournament while another might do it for something else. This will bridge those kinds of gaps (too)."

One school may be on block scheduling while another isn't, he added.

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"So if someone tapes a class in the morning, that afternoon someone else can watch it," Stremick said.

Classes and careers

The classes made available through the proposed center include five main areas -- agriculture, business education, health careers, marketing education and information technology. Within these five areas are several different courses offered from accounting to web design or medical terminology. There also is the opportunity for students to earn dual high school and college credits in some courses.

"The classes we selected were those best suited for the delivery method we are using," Stremick said. "We understand something like welding is important and much needed. This is something we could evolve to and eventually have trailers with welding equipment available to the different schools at different times of the year. We need to understand how the system works before we go there."

There's potential for an additional 100 slots for students in the different course fields, with 60 of those just in health careers, he added.

"We're offering 100 slots and the survey results showed more than 300 students interested in this new system," Stremick said. "We'll accommodate what we can, but the great thing is it shows there is room for growth. We didn't want to start off with something like 350 slots because who knows if that will be the same number when sign up would begin."

If these classes are successful, Stremick sees more classes being offered with more slots open for students interested in them, he added.

The survey or needs assessment conducted for the grant application to help implement the virtual center included 678 students.

The survey results provided great insight into the career development needs of students.

The ninth and tenth grade students surveyed were split into two groups, Dickinson and the regional schools.

Results showed half of the Dickinson students said their teachers worked to connect what they learn to future careers, while the other half said teachers sometimes or never made those similar connections.

It also showed 44 percent as currently or having been enrolled in a career and technical education course, with 31 percent indicating they would choose those types of courses to help prepare them for a future career.

A main aspect of having the virtual center is a major focus on career counseling, even at the elementary school level.

"We want to give them the exposure to something to see if it is what they really want to pursue in the future, whether it's through a degree at a four-year college or going straight into the workforce after graduation," Stremick said.

Fifty percent of Dickinson students surveyed indicated they would pursue a four-year degree after high school, while 54 percent of the regional students surveyed said the same. Sixteen percent of regional school students indicated they were considering a technical school.

To better address career development, counselors are a focus of the center. Currently there are 5½ career and technical education counselors at the 10 schools. The virtual center would add three more using counselors already in the region who need to get credentialed by the state.

Counselors would meet with students using established career planning workshops themed for each grade across all the schools implemented through video conferencing.

Career exploration for all grades will be a big part of the virtual center.

Beginning in 2008, grades K-6 will provide professional development activities infusing career awareness and exploration into the classroom. Grades K-2 could talk about why people work and what jobs are out there. Grades 3-6 would look at understanding how careers are clustered, what is needed in those clusters and how they apply to the state's own development.

Development groups

In order to develop the courses, the scheduling and continued improvement of the virtual center, a governing board is formed with a chair and vice chair consisting of the member districts.

The term of office for each center board member is at least one year and terminates upon the expiration term related to the person's respective school board. Compensation for being on the center board is paid out of center funds, states the grant application.

The grant application states the center board is to hire one full-time director to oversee the daily operations such as identifying staff, creating course or student schedules, monitoring curriculum and organizing professional development.

A regional advisory committee also is to meet at least twice a year and consists of those in each program area such as agriculture or business.

The center's educators will inform advisory members of progress and improvements needed to be submitted to the center governing board and the center's educational plan.

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