Warren schools line up new career skill courses

Kayla Hudson, 13, of Bentonville, launches a ping pong ball from her homemade catapult she constructed in technical education at Skyline High School in Front Royal last week. Warren County Public Schools will be offering new career technical education courses next year, including a new agriculture program that will use the same classroom space. Rich Cooley/Daily

Warren County Public Schools will be expanding its repertoire of career and technical education offerings for students in the coming years.

Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, high school students will be able to take courses focused on agricultural sciences with the newly approved Agriscience and Technology course for eighth graders and Applied Agricultural Concepts for students in grades nine through 12.

Jane Baker, director of career and technical education and principal at Blue Ridge Technical Center, said the various groups and committees that discuss course offerings wanted to build on current course options while carving out new paths for students. In the future, she said students will hopefully be able to choose from more courses that focus on different niches within agricultural studies.

“From this course, we could move into plant science, we could move into animal science, there’s veterinary science, there’s also ag mechanics, which is small engine repair … so you could go into a lot of different paths,” she said. “They’re touching on all of those different areas – it’s a springboard for other courses to then come off of it.”

Students will also be able to take Digital Visualization and two levels of programming starting in the 2016-2017 school year. Baker said demand for such courses that directly teach those job skills – including graphic design and coding – has been high among Warren residents and representatives of area businesses needing skilled hirees.

Matthew Presley, 13, left, and Aiden Brune, 14, right, adjust the tension on their homemade catapults in technical education class at Skyline High School in Front Royal Rich Cooley/Daily

“That’s the result of community interest, but it’s also the result of surveys that we have done with our graduates,” she said of the programming course. “They have felt very well-rounded, except for the area of programming. We need to be offering something to the students here … so that they were on level with everybody else. There’s a reason behind everything.”

The district already has a teacher lined up for those courses, but the agriculture classes will require hiring a new faculty member. Some tech ed classes will share the same classroom space as the Applied Agricultural Concepts class, and the courses will be held at Warren County High School and Skyline High School in alternating semesters.

Another new frontier for the schools will be the Industrial Maintenance Technology program, which will be open to three qualifying Warren students for 31 credits at Lord Fairfax Community College over the course of a year, along with students from Winchester, Frederick and Clarke.

Seniors will take courses at Lord Fairfax starting at 7:30 a.m. and return to their high school to take other senior-level classes. Brenda Byard, Academic, Student Affairs & Outreach Dean at Lord Fairfax Community College, said the students will finish this new program – referred to as the college as the Trades Academy – with both Basic Electrical Technician and HVAC Career Studies Certificates.

Previously, most high school students learning at the college acquired General Studies Certificates, which placed them at a sophomore level going into higher education after their graduation. In contrast, the Trades Academy students’ certificates will represent the experience desired by businesses and apprenticeships that those students are scoping out.

Byard said that this will serve as a pilot year and the college is looking to offer the program to Page County students in later years. The college is working with other school districts to collaborate learning in other fields.

“I think you will see more programs available to students in health profession fields,” she said. “Those are always the conversations, and we have a great partner with Valley Health Systems.”

Baker said that area schools and the Career Pathways Consortium had been so busy preparing for the inaugural Worlds Of Work Career Expo last October that planning for the program didn’t start until last summer. The college received a $27,740 grant from the 2016 Chancellor’s Innovation Fund in December to provide classroom and instructional materials for the program, and Warren County Public Schools will budget $1,500 for each students’ tuition, totaling $4,500.

With the new middle school scheduled to open for the 2017-2018 school year, Baker said a number of options for future course offerings are still under consideration. For now, she said the schools are using existing resources to establish these foundational courses with support from administration.

“This whole process is just an opportunity to give to the kids in Warren County the very best education options that we can,” she said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com