Attending college immediately after high school—or even at all—isn’t something everyone wants or can afford. A collaboration among the Clarke County School District, Athens Technical College and the local business community, the Athens Community Career Academy offers high school students a variety of career pathways to enter the workforce in Athens.
Students can advance themselves by earning certifications and associate degrees and by learning important skills needed to continue their education. They can also earn college credit through Athens Tech by enrolling in college-level courses at the Academy.
“The students here are very motivated,” says Reginald Thomas, the director of the ACCA. “Everyone has to pick a pathway, and it’s their choice, so they’re excited about being here.”
Now that school district administrators have moved to new offices on Prince Avenue, the career academy has more space in the H.T. Edwards building for expansion. For 2021–22, the school has 225 students; next academic year, there will be spots for 365 sophomores, juniors and seniors at the academy. Most spend half a day at the academy and half at their home high school, either Clarke Central or Cedar Shoals.
A governing board of industry leaders helps the school district and Athens Tech find and plan for workforce needs in the community, and even develop curriculums approved by state education officials. “All we want to do is to help these kids get jobs,” says Georgia Power’s Christy Terrell, the company’s regional external affairs manager in Northeast Georgia and the chair of the ACCA governing board. “We are constantly evaluating job demands in the area and trying to determine the top jobs that need filling and what they pay, and then to evaluate whether our pathways meet those needs.”
In addition to Georgia Power, business supporters include representatives from Carrier Transicold, ABB Motors and Mechanical, Piedmont Athens Regional, Caterpillar, the Classic Center, Pilgrims Pride and Accurus Aerospace.
Last fall, the academy opened the advanced manufacturing and welding lab, a high-school pathway. It’s where students can earn certifications, says Brad Thompson, general manager of ABB’s Athens operation, one of several companies that helped pay for the new facilities. Others include Georgia Power, Caterpillar and Carrier Transicold. Director Thomas says there’s a waiting list for the program, in which students learn the foundations of materials science, robotics and automated systems, and production enterprises, as well as welding. Upon completion, they can work in various manufacturing jobs.
“We are securing that talent pipeline to help grow our business,” Thompson says. “We’ll evaluate every year what the needs are and then adjust the pathway.” The first apprentice from the Career Academy at ABB will earn from $18–$24 an hour with benefits, he says, when they start working full-time.
Health care, the oldest and most popular pathway, gives students a foundation in patient care, and it, too, has a waiting list. Students can continue their coursework through Athens Tech, becoming an EMT. Plans are under discussion to add training in phlebotomy (drawing blood from patients), surgical technology (preparing instruments needed for surgeries) and medical assistant certification. For these three fields, Athens Tech and the career academy will work together to develop the curriculum, in partnership with Piedmont Athens Regional, says Elaine Cook, the hospital system’s representative on the governing board.
Other pathways include audio and video technology, film, culinary arts, cosmetology and teaching as a profession. The film pathway will include broadcasting in the fall. Terrell says the board is also considering adding pathways for HVAC, biotechnology and construction. The academy has partnered with the Classic Center to develop a hospitality pathway that will begin in the fall of 2022. It will include hotel and hospitality management and entertainment, sports and event management, “and the plan is to include booking shows and events,” Thomas says.
Culinary arts students currently cater events for school district functions, but in the fall of 2023, they will be working onsite in a remodeled kitchen that’s commercial grade. Plans are to find space for a restaurant in the career academy, open to the community, and to let the students experience firsthand running a food business.
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