Little Rock high schools offer real-world learning through Excel CAPS program

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 571 views 

The Little Rock School District this fall will launch a new career-learning program for high school students.

The Excel program, which has tapped into the national Centers for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) network, will provide curriculum for 11th– and 12th-grade students that is career-focused and holds potential for students to earn industry certifications, college credit from the University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College and internship opportunities, while also working toward their high school diploma, according to the district.

There are 150 students enrolled for the inaugural year.

The CAPS network is comprised of 26 schools throughout the U.S. and began in Kansas City, Mo.

The courses will be offered at all five Little Rock high schools — Little Rock Central High School, Hall High School, J.A. Fair High School of College and Career Academies, McClellan High School and Parkview Arts Science Magnet High School, said Mike Poore, superintendent. The program is project-based and offers hands-on learning in a real-world professional environment, Poore said. “It’s not the same old career and vo-tech classes we had 20 years ago.”

The strands that will be introduced this fall are medical professions, technology solutions, teacher preparation and construction. The district plans to add aviation for the 2018-19 school year.

The process of identifying which career fields to target with the program started with a committee of representatives from the school district and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, Poore said. Advisory teams were them formed for each strand to help with develop the curriculum, in addition to marketing the program, choosing staff and working out the logistics of which strands would meet where.

“The Excel program gives our young people the information and research regarding career paths and job opportunities that exist in our market today, so they have access to that skill attainment while they’re in high school, giving them a huge head start into the workforce, or entering college,” said Jay Chesshir, president and CEO of the Little Rock chamber.

Little Rock Superintendent Michael Poore

“We believe strongly that if we get the people part right, if the skilled workforce is available, existing companies can expand, and it will also provide an incentive for other companies to relocate to the area,” Chesshir said. “That gives us an advantage.”

The chamber also partnered with North Little Rock schools to create the

North Little Rock Center for Excellence, a school within a school at North Little Rock High School. It’s the result of a conversion charter for the school, approved by the Arkansas Department of Education last year.

The Center for Excellence also offers a college credit, internships and a possible direct pipeline to job opportunities in the realms of medical professions, computer science, engineering and manufacturing.

In terms of Excel, Erin Dail, coordinator of Early College Programs at UA Pulaski Technical College, said the program’s approach to concurrent credit is “new and exciting.”

Dail said Excel courses, as planned, line up directly with what goes on at UA Pulaski Technical College. But the real difference, Dail said, is in the real-world environment the courses provide.

“They’re offering a large hands-on approach that traditional high school students often wouldn’t get,” Dail said.

Year-long classes will meet for 2 ½ hours daily, according to the school district. The healthcare strand will offer students rotations and observations in a hospital and clinic environments, according to its description on the Excel page on the Little Rock School District website.

Students in the tech strand will be tasked with solving real-world problems and given the opportunity to work on projects and start to put together a professional portfolio with accomplishments for interview and employment purposes, according to the page. The class will meet at the Little Rock-based interactive agency Aristotle.

Construction courses will take place at the Metropolitan Career Technical Center, according to a post on the CAPS website. The education strand will give hands-on experience under the guidance of a professional educator at one of the high schools.

Because most of the courses will be held off-campus, Poore said the district is looking at providing Rock Region Metro transit passes, free of charge for Excel students. Poore said the idea was inspired by a program at UA Pulaski Tech, where students, faculty and staff are given fare-free transit passes.

Poore, who was chosen to lead the state-controlled district last spring, launched a similar program at Bentonville High School, where he served five years as principal.

The program is called Ignite, and 200 students are enrolled in the program for 2017-18, which will be its third year.  Ignite is also part of the CAPS national network.

Enrollment doubled from the 2016-17 school year, when the program offered studies in construction management, health services, creative arts and information technology. In the fall, it will add strands in culinary arts and global business.

The Residential Construction Apprentice Program (RCAP) in Fort Smith will begin in August with leadership from the Greater Fort Smith Association of Homebuilders (GFSAH) and Fort Smith Public Schools (FSPS).

According to GFSAH Executive Director Stephanie Stipins, the program has been accredited by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Arkansas Department of Workforce Education and will be taught by an Arkansas Department of Education-accredited instructor.