BELLE FOURCHE – The newest project for the Belle Fourche High School began Aug. 14 when the empty lot to the north and east of the present career and technical classrooms becomes the site of a new two story building that will house a new wave of technical classes slated for the 2018 school year. The new Career Technical Education (CTE) building will have classrooms for welding, vocational agriculture, Family Consumer Sciences (FCS), various business classes and others.
The vision took form in 2010. Dr. Steve Willard, BF School Superintendent, said that they have always looked at the property next to the school for possible purchase and expansion of facilities.
The lot across the street provided a place to begin to build after the district purchased the three houses through Capital Outlay funds.
The cost of the new building comes in with a bid at $2,870,000 from Scull Construction of Rapid City. According to Dr. Willard, Capital Outlay funds will be used along with a $500,000 workforce grant from the state and $900,000 zero per cent REDL&G loan from the USDA through Butte Electric Cooperative.
The new vocational agriculture teacher, Naomi Lermon, has been hired to fill the gap left by Graydon Dailey who has retired from teaching carpentry and woodworking According to high school principal, Mathew Raba, Lermon will bring a new diversity to the curriculum of the school. She will teach four classes in the high school and two classes in the middle school.
Other teachers are already in place to teach FCS, welding, and other business classes.
Raba is enthusiastic about the interest in the ag related classes. It has been several years since Belle Fourche has had an agriculture program and there seems to be a number of students who are interested in becoming veterinarians, he pointed out, and this will aid in those endeavors.
The classrooms that are utilized now for the CTE classes will be used for other purposes after the new building is finished. Raba said he had no concrete ideas formed yet, but there are several ideas floating around.
Two of the ideas are that the current welding area could be used for a band and music room or for auto mechanics. However, Raba said, the idea of auto mechanics may sound simple but a teacher would need to be hired, equipment purchased, and all the necessary things would need to be added to make the program complete.
The best part, he said, is that there is a year to work on any ideas.
What does the future hold for high school students? Raba is passionate about the future of education in Belle Fourche. Plans are being geared toward career and technical education. One of Raba’s goals is to get more offerings that appeal to that technical and career side.
“Not every kid is cut out to get that four-year degree,” he said. There is a push, nevertheless, to get some post-secondary education.
Part of the process is trying to implement internships or mentorships, he said, to get those hands-on types of opportunities.
Another area that is growing in the high school education system in Belle Fourche is the dual-credit class. These are classes that are available from college courses or technical school classes. The classes count for high school and college credit and are part of the GPA of the student, if the student has taken advantage of a special program through the State of South Dakota Board of Regents.
The program has become more obtainable since the state has stepped up and will help to pay for the courses. A portion is paid by the student with the remainder paid by the State to the Board of Regents.
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If a student chooses not to participate in the special program, they may have to pay full costs of the class. This allows the student to exclude the grades received from the college course to be included in their high school GPA.
This year an adjunct professor from Western Dakota Vo-Tech will come from Rapid City to teach sociology one semester and psychology another semester. If students take both classes they have the potential to earn nine college credits.
“That’s without leaving the building,” Raba commented, and that’s good for the students.
There’s an additional program that has been quietly growing in the background, Raba said, and it seems to be working very well. Three years ago, the Belle Fourche Independent Learning Academy was initiated.
According to Raba, the Mastery Based Learning program transforms instruction into a more personal level. Curriculum and teaching is based on how the student learns and is comfortable with the process.
Some will move through classes more quickly, while others may have a class that is difficult and can sit and take time to grasp the concepts.
Mastery Based Learning takes a major role in teaching. The students don’t move on until mastering each level, Raba pointed out.
The first students that began this program are now seniors this year. Those students will be able to spend more class time narrowing in on career choices.
The idea of customizing classes is becoming more popular. Students must sign up for the customized learning which makes for an incentive to accomplish the goals they have set for themselves.
Through this program, students have a classroom schedule, but the students’ classroom time is more flexible.
For instance, if a student starts out in first period math and the work seems to be clicking and the student desires to continue working, he then has the ability to stay in that class. The teacher notifies the student’s next class teacher. The student is allowed to continue.
According to Raba, this allows the student to learn to manage time and make use of available resources.
Sophomores and juniors are now part of the program and Raba is looking forward to seeing the students grow.
The 2017-2018 school year looks to be promising for the future of students at Belle Fourche High School. The staff is ready to help students set their sights on bright prospects and lead them to the future.