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By Dan Rudy 

School programs readying for upcoming year, expanded programs

 


Various members of the Wrangell community were invited to the high school library Monday afternoon to meet with technical preparation program staff for the University of Alaska Southeast. Earlier in the summer the program’s regional coordinator, Kim Szczatko, set up a permanent office at Wrangell High School, which will expand its scope in Wrangell and other island communities.

Presenting with her was the associate dean for UAS Career Education Programs, Pete Traxler.

The tech prep program is a partnership program between UAS and local school systems, offering college credit through courses taught by approved instructors using university syllabi. Enrolled students also earn high school credits needed for graduation, and the program will afford them the opportunity to explore any of 81 different career pathways in six different fields.

Courses are offered at a discounted $25 per credit, with a semester-long course typically worth three credits. The program also helps students earn certifications and occupational endorsements which may be valuable for entering various fields directly after graduation.

There are other benefits to enrollment, such as increased participation and improved graduation rates. While Alaska high school seniors have a 72 percent graduation rate, Szczatko reported that among participants in a technical prep program, that figure leaps to 91 percent. She feels that is due to engaging students’ interests, which has an overall positive impact on their schooling experience.

“I think the reason it works is our kids need only that one teacher, or one class to make the difference,” she said.

Traxler explained the ultimate goal is to impart to students with the skills they will need to succeed after graduating, such as problem-solving, professional etiquette and accountability. These “soft” sets of skills are not only useful for college, but will be invaluable in a workplace environment. Producing a pool of adaptable, able young workers would be a benefit to communities such as Wrangell, whose businesses at times have trouble filling positions.

“What we’re really interested in is getting that workforce,” Szczatko said. To better direct the program’s future course and accommodate the community’s needs, a wide-ranging variety of people were invited to Monday’s presentation.

These included Aleisha Mollen of Wells Fargo Bank, Mark Walker and Scott Glaze of Alaska Island Community Services, new secondary principal Kendall Benson, Ray Keith of Trident Seafoods, Jake Harris of the Stikine Inn, and representatives of the United States Forest Service and local government.

“This is sort of an open brain-storming session,” Wrangell school superintendent Patrick Mayer explained.

“Everyone at the table, they were kind of in a different industry,” Szczatko said of the meeting. “We really needed that spectrum.”

The program has already begun to see partnerships form outside of academia, with Wrangell’s Chamber of Commerce allotting $1,500 to help cover students’ course costs this year. What Traxler, Szczatko and Mayer would like to eventually see is the creation of postgraduate and adult education courses, and school-to-work partnerships.

“We need to be looking at graduation not as a terminal event, but as K-14,” Mayer explained. “We’re really changing our mindset with regard to that.”

The presentation had a networking aspect as well, and Szczatko was hopeful that with her program in mind, further ideas may germinate and opportunities develop down the road.

“What we were after yesterday, we were after input,” she said afterward of the meeting. “I thought it was very positive. I think it was informative to people in town.”

Wrangell’s school district is otherwise readying for a new year, with students set to start classes on Aug. 27. At the monthly meeting of the Wrangell School Board on Monday evening, its members were introduced to Benson, the incoming middle and high school principal. Arriving last month from Cedar City, Utah, he will be bringing three decades of experience to the job.

Board members were introduced to new tech director Matt Gore, and to new Title I elementary teacher Matt Nore. The board was also informed that fellow member Cyni Waddington had handed in her resignation.

In his monthly report, Mayer said the school district’s crisis response plan is also reaching its final draft, and after further review will be submitted to the board at its next meeting on Sept. 21.

 

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