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Northampton Schools expand curriculum offerings

JACKSON – Northampton County Schools are planning to expand career opportunities for their students and help provide them with credentials that can lead to success after graduation.

The Northampton Career and Technical Academy of Innovation (NCTAI) will open at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year for students in grades 9-12. School district leaders held an information session here on Wednesday, April 21 to give families the chance to learn more about it.

NCTAI will be housed at the former Northampton County High School-East campus in Creeksville.

“We’re committed to saying all kids don’t require the same thing,” explained Northampton Superintendent Dr. Pamela Chamblee in her opening remarks at the meeting. “We are rethinking how to support our families, not only through this pandemic but beyond.”

She said this new academy will help prepare students for a wider variety of “life-changing opportunities” to earn a livable, sustainable wage after they graduate high school.

“When our kids go across that graduation stage, we want a high school diploma in one hand and we want certification in the other hand,” she continued.

Chamblee said the response to the new academy has been very positive so far with a lot of interest. She emphasized that NCTAI is open to all students, even those planning to attend college after graduation.

The school will offer several different “pathways,” some of which will be taught by Northampton CTE (career and technical education) teachers and others in partnership with Roanoke Chowan Community College. Students will earn certifications and credentials for the career pathway of their choice by the time they graduate high school.

NCTAI Director Dr. Amy Draper, who also serves as the district’s CTE Director, explained that credentials are a tangible way to show employers that the students have the skills they’ll be asked to perform at their future jobs.

“Put yourself in the place of an employer. If you’re looking through applications and you see someone that has a certification that you’re going to have to pay for them to get to work at your business, who are you going to interview first,” Draper explained as an example of the program’s potential benefits.

“This opens so many doors for our students,” she continued.

The NCTAI pathway choices include Early Childhood Education, Culinary Arts, Agricultural Science, Computer Digital Design, Fire Safety, Auto Mechanics, Nurse Aide, Emergency Medical Technician, HVAC, Electrical (Industrial) Systems, Cosmetology, and Welding.

“We’re still in the planning stages for a couple of these,” noted Draper.

Each program will provide hands-on experience for the participants. Those in Culinary Arts, for example, will have a commercial kitchen on campus to build up their skills in while they earn their ServSafe certification. Likewise, the Cosmetology students will have the same kinds of tools and space to work with as if they were in a barbershop or a salon.

The different pathways can also benefit each other, such as students in the Agriculture Science program growing fruits and vegetables that can be used by the Culinary students. Students who choose the Electrical (Industrial) Systems pathway can use those skills for other programs such as Welding and Auto Mechanics.

The goal is to give the students an all-encompassing education.

“We’re an agriculture community. We’re still rooted in agriculture,” explained Geneva Faulkner, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, about the Agriculture pathway. “We want our students to see all of the potential, from working it as a farm employee to owning the farm business. There’s a lot that goes into it. We don’t want them to be surprised.”

The new academy will also utilize community partnerships. The Severn Volunteer Fire Department, for example, will work with Fire Safety students as they earn their firefighter credentials. The department has also donated a fire truck for them to use.

“If a student is going into their senior year, we still have programs for them. If a student is going into high school, we still have programs for them,” Faulkner emphasized. “We know this changes the game for them.”

Chris Butler, Director of Federal Programs, briefly presented information on funding the district has received so far to get the academy up and running. The Golden Leaf Foundation awarded them $150,000, and the NC Department of Public Instruction awarded $180,000.

He also said they’ll continue to seek more funding to assist in updating classrooms with necessary equipment, providing materials for students, transporting students, and retaining the most qualified teachers and instructors.

The News Herald reached out to Dr. Chamblee for some additional details about NCTAI.

“It’s not a standalone school,” she explained. “Students will be enrolled in all additional classes either through our EdOptions virtual academy or with teachers on their primary base school campus.”

Students will have synchronous classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and asynchronous classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“The chosen pathway will determine if a student can participate in more than one,” she continued, noting that some pathways are very time intensive programs and others may require some prerequisite courses beforehand.

The Creeksville campus was closed in 2014, so renovations have been underway to make sure the three buildings are outfitted with the equipment for the 10 or more programs and ready for students when they arrive in a few months. Chamblee stated these renovations have included repairing and replacing tiles, blinds, and HVAC units, as well as performing landscaping and painting and roof maintenance.

“We really see program offerings expanding; therefore, we will continue to solicit more grants and utilize the state and federal funds from our CTE funding source,” Chamblee said, adding that they also plan to strengthen partnerships with local government and regional workforce development agencies.

“The community excitement, outreach, and support for this opportunity have been phenomenal, and we will do all that we can to help our students and families succeed,” Chamblee emphasized. “We want to thank all of our business partners and Roanoke Chowan Community College for helping to build a strong community coalition that will positively impact Northampton County for years to come.”