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The Rapid City Area Schools plan to better prepare students for life after graduation by doubling down on career education, expanding opportunities for dual-enrollment and offering work experiences through local businesses.

Early exposure to a wide variety of careers will be integral to the district's proposed "Pathways" program, which is slated to be implemented in the fall of 2020.

At a press conference held Thursday at the City and School Administration building, district officials and local business leaders shared new details of the program. Similar approaches are already employed by schools in Sioux Falls and in Nashville, Tenn.

"Most of us at one time or another perhaps asked our teachers or our parents, 'why do I have to learn this?' or 'when am I ever going to use this?'" Superintendent Lori Simon said during the conference. "Our goal is to make learning more relevant and engaging for all students through career-connected learning so that students no longer ask these questions or at least ask them less."

A student's chosen course of study, or pathway, will fall under one of six academies, each of which focuses on different career fields. Those academies are:

  • Health services
  • Construction and technical trades
  • Human services and education
  • Computer arts and sciences
  • Business, entrepreneurship and hospitality
  • Science and engineering

During their first year of high school, students will explore each one through a seminar included in a proposed Freshman Academy. During their sophomore year, they will be required to take an introductory course to the academy that most interests them.

Before moving on from the 10th grade, students will have to select a career-specific pathway from within that academy to begin studying their junior year. Students have the option to change academies that same year.

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As seniors, they can choose to either take a specialized pathway course or complete a capstone project. 

School officials said the program will present students with opportunities to complete internships and earn post-secondary credits. Black Hills State University, Western Dakota Technical Institute and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology have already pledged to support the initiative.

School spokesperson Katy Urban said that 200 local business have signed on to sponsor work opportunities and provide monetary support as well.

Simon said Thursday that faculty and staff are already training for the launch of the 2020 Freshman Academy pilot. As the Pathways program gains steam, she said new employees may need to be hired or brought on.

"We have a lot of expertise within our existing staff and so part of our work, in fact a lot of it, will be identifying the certifications that our teachers already have," she said. "But we do know that there may be some situations where we may have to look to industry to bring someone in."

For now, Simon said that both Stevens and Central high schools will be able to operate the new programs without modifying their respective facilities, though she did not rule out the possibility of future additions or renovations.

The district will not be eliminating electives in fine arts, language and physical education as part of the new program.

To account for the new career and technical education course requirements, the schools are looking to increase the number of graduation credits students need to earn from 22 to 24, a move that would require approval from the school's board of education.

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