New summer academy gives Western High School students opportunities in agricultural, manufacturing careers

Carol Frericks, left, and Kent Hawley
Posted: Mar. 28, 2013 9:44 pm Updated: Apr. 18, 2013 10:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

BARRY, Ill. -- Brendan Raftery's summer already is filling up with activities.

But the Western High School junior hopes to squeeze one more thing into his calendar -- the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math College and Career Academy.

The innovative four-week summer STEM academy is a partnership between the Western School District, John Wood Community College, and agricultural and manufacturing companies in the region.

"We want students to see how math and science are involved in everyday life and understand that hundreds of companies in our area depend on employees to have those skill sets," said Kent Hawley, JWCC associate dean of dual enrollment and regional centers. "The goal of the academy is to provide specific math instruction that will prepare students to have successful agriculture and manufacturing careers that are widely available in this region."

For 20 Western sophomores, juniors and seniors, it's an opportunity that links classroom and career.

"I think it's a really good program that people can get a lot out of," Raftery said after hearing details of the STEM academy at a Thursday afternoon school assembly. "It bridges the gap between high school, college and career."

Students will spend two mornings each week at the high school working to enhance math skills and two mornings at JWCC in Quincy learning how to prepare for college. They will also prepare for the courses needed to complete degrees and certificates in manufacturing technology, agribusiness and animal science. Students will be placed in learning exchanges with regional manufacturing and agricultural employers in Barry and Quincy during the afternoons to apply lessons learned earlier in the day.

Applications for the academy will be available at a follow-up meeting for Western parents and students, set for 6 p.m. Thursday, April 4.

"We are so excited about this opportunity for our students to be able to go to the college campus, do STEM learning exchanges and to be able to see how high school courses really apply to STEM in their everyday life," Western Superintendent Carol Frericks said.

"John Wood's focus is on getting students to up the level on math so when they graduate from high school, they will be ready for a career, ready for college," Hawley said. "Western is looking at agriculture and manufacturing, guiding students who are interested in those areas into successful careers."

The academy won't offer a traditional summer school experience -- or traditional classroom learning. Frericks said it will use a blended learning environment, with students doing math coursework online and teachers providing small group and inquiry-based, project-based learning.

Grant funding for the program runs through December 2015.

"What makes it different and exciting and relevant for students is, not only are they going to get instruction they need and take that instruction and use it in a workforce environment, they will be able to explore some of the careers they might want to look at," Hawley said.

Manufacturing and agriculture might not be Raftery's top interests, but what the STEM program provides can translate to other career choices.

"What you get out of the program goes across all the fields," he said.

Western junior Kristen Smith said the academy offers an interesting opportunity to earn credit during summer break and help prepare her for her senior year.

"Next year I planned on going half-days and taking a class at John Wood anyway," Smith said.

Raftery said it will give students an opportunity to look at a college campus, get to know professors and learn what college life is like at JWCC.


Other Efforts

The new STEM College and Career Academy at Western High School is part of two wider efforts aimed at encouraging students to enter agriculture and manufacturing careers.

Last fall, John Wood Community College gathered regional business, education and economic development leaders to sign a charter for a Pathways to Results process to align K-12 coursework with college degrees and careers in manufacturing.

As a result of work with the Great River Economic Development Foundation and the Workforce Investment Board of Western Illinois, JWCC recently received a $500,000 Trade Adjustment Assistance grant through the Illinois Network for Advanced Manufacturing to improve the delivery of career manufacturing training programs.

Western High School recently received grant funding as part of the national Race to the Top initiative to plan activities to help students enter manufacturing and agriculture career paths. JWCC received $20,000 in Race to the Top grant funding from the Illinois Community College Board to help Western build student math skills related to those career paths.