The large, open-plan Pathways building echoes with excited voices, and the energy of young, eager learners seems to bounce off the walls, filling the space like something tangible.
What began as a spark of an idea eight years ago has become an innovative educational facility teeming with students here in Natrona County; a literal Pathway on a unique learning experience unlike what many may have ever seen before.
According to Molly Voris, half-time Creative Arts and Design Academy Mentor and half-time Academy Coach, it all began with a community committee of approximately 150 people initiated by the district called Path to 2025.
“The district put [Path to 2025] together to really start to imagine what school would be like for the class of 2025, which at the time were about two years old,” said Voris. “What was education going to look like for them? We were kind of preparing them for – well we didn’t really know yet.”
The research and analytic study carried out by members of the Path to 2025 initiative identified directives that helped to structure the multi-layered educational focus for each student at Pathways.
The important things that came out of the Path to 2025 community was that we identified graduate profiles by asking ourselves ‘What do graduates look like?’, said Voris. We were able to build on that graduate profile to identify what a student’s needs would be before graduation and what they’ll need to be working on in order to pursue whichever path comes after graduation individually; whether that is college or a career.
Each student sets multiple goals and works through one of four Academies to realize them.
The Four Pathways Academies:
ACME – Architecture Construction Manufacturing and Engineering
This academy is made up of three areas currently. Auto Service and Certification, where students have to potential to earn up to eight different nationally recognized certifications. The auto classes are BOCES, (Board of Cooperative Educational Services), classes for dual high school and college credits. Welding is part of the ACME academy and also offers nationally recognized certifications. Finally, the Construction and Wood Manufacturing program offers BOCES classes as well within this academy.
BANR – Business Agriculture and Natural Resources
The BANR Academy offers Veterinary Science, Horticulture and Culinary Arts. In the Culinary Arts program students have the opportunity to earn two certifications. According to Voris, all the students in the Culinary Arts program have already earned the Serve Safe Certification this year.
CACD – Creative Arts Communication and Design
Students participating in CACD build a portfolio of work in their field of choice: film media, digital media, photography, two-dimensional art or three-dimensional art.
“CACD students really chart their own portfolio destination,” said Voris.
HSHS – Health Science Human Service
The Pathway offered in HSHS currently is the Nursing program. Students participating in HSHS have the opportunity to earn their Certified Nursing Assistant Certification, which they’re eligible for as early as 16 years old.
Within the four academies there are core classes that each student must satisfy the credits for in order to graduate as well.
One of the many things that makes Pathways an awesome opportunity for students who are looking to engage in a little more hands-on learning, according to Voris, is that instructors work the core class curriculum in amongst the area of study curriculum wherever possible for an almost seamless learning experience in the field the student is most interested in.
To make the Academies approach to learning really work as it was intended to, it became apparent to the Pathways planners that a unique learning environment would be essential.
“The building was really inspired by the Boeing facility in Washington,” said Voris. “The reason why they’re there is to build the airplane. So they have the airplane on the floor then all of the offices overlook that airplane. So it doesn’t matter if you’re in accounts payable, human resources, engineering; you’re all looking at why you’re there, which is to build the plane. So with that idea in mind we came up with the construction lab space. Many of the spaces overlook into this large space where we’re working.”
The building and the academy approach to learning seem to be working for the students participating in them.
Dominic Sanford, a student in the CACD Academy, emphatically expressed his admiration for the program.
“I absolutely love it,” said Sanford of his Pathways experience. “It is amazing. I have a lot of freedom to do what I want to in Art. I’m working in foundry right now. It’s just so much fun.”
Having a space to dream and explore allows the students to consider paths they might never have imagined before. The opportunity to work in a medium that might not otherwise be accessible to a high school student has inspired Sanford to consider foundry as a secondary job later in life. His first choice: to be an Art teacher.
“Because of how things are going for me right now, I want to be an art teacher and possibly work in foundry on the side,” said Sanford.
The work that went into the planning and execution of the learning space, the curriculum, and all the problem solving made for some rocky times along the way, but seeing the kids in the space made it all worth it for Voris.
“There were lots of days in those eight years where I thought, ‘Gosh, I’m crazy. What I think education should be: it can’t happen’, said Voris. “But to actually have students in here and the amount of smiles that we see every day and the students that come through and are excited about their experiences and have taken complete ownership of their learning, is validation to those of us who thought this is what it could be.”