'Amazing.' Take a look inside the Greater Lafayette Career Academy
'This is nothing like what we had when I was in school.' Plus, the plan for vaccines for kids, boosters for the rest
Next time someone offers a tour of the Greater Lafayette Career Academy, take it from me, go check it out.
Or take it from Philip Sanchez, who was among a hundred or more who took up the school’s invitation, spending Wednesday afternoon poking his head in the recently constructed, high-bay automotive, construction trades and welding labs in a facility that once was home to Lafayette Life Insurance Co.’s complex at the corner of South 18th Street and Teal Road.
“Really unbelievable,” Sanchez said. “This is nothing like what we had when I was in school.”
In the works since Lafayette School Corp. bought the vacant, 94,000-square-foot corporate offices in 2016, the Greater Lafayette Career Academy opened three years ago as a career-path cooperative between LSC, Tippecanoe School Corp. and West Lafayette Community School Corp. The districts have put a combined $29 million into the facility, including an $8 million expansion open this year.
The idea: Focus on skills for advanced manufacturing and the trades, often specific to industry in Greater Lafayette, putting graduates in position to get better-paying jobs right out of school and a leg up on advanced training available after high school.
“We want to be relevant in this community,” TSC Superintendent Scott Hanback said Wednesday.
The Greater Lafayette Career Academy has 251 juniors and seniors attending some part of the day for work in automotive technology, construction trades, nursing, firefighting, criminal justice, welding, culinary and other courses, Miranda Hutcheson, director of the career academy, said.
Hutcheson, once an assistant principal at Lafayette Jefferson High School, said those students come in equal shares from Jeff, McCutcheon, Harrison and West Lafayette high schools, along with a few from private or home schools. Part of the students’ days are spent at their home high schools. Their Greater Lafayette Career Academy courses are similar to capstone work in their high school careers. (Hutcheson said some 9,000 students are taking some sort of introductory career and technology courses in their TSC, LSC and West Side schools.)
“Since we’ve been here, I’ve had students who are valedictorians, and I’ve had students who are preparing to serve in the military,” Hutcheson said. “We’ve had all kinds of kids, and we serve them all.”
Just a few snapshots in a sprawling complex that really isn’t like your high school was (at least, not my high school).
• In the automotive technology lab, part of Greater Lafayette Career Academy’s newest section, about a dozen alumni from Lafayette Jeff’s auto and motorsport classes came back to check out teacher Craig Locker’s new digs Wednesday.
“You don’t know what that means,” Locker said. (A sign on a whiteboard encouraging alums to sign in filled as the afternoon went on. Locker had to ask several former students to stick around so they could catch up, once he took visitors on rounds.)
The new lab – closer to what you’d call a shop, if you were taking a car in for maintenance – includes five lifts, a four-post alignment lift and space that’s roughly double what was built in 1969 at Lafayette Jeff. (“A few things have changed since then,” Locker said.) With room for 20 in the program – one for each wheel on the five lifts, Locker said – students start by designing, welding and fabricating go-karts before moving on. From there, students get experience under the lifts, as well as training on other aspects of the industry not spent turning wrenches.
“This place is amazing,” Locker said.
• Eight beds – several complete with dummy patients – are part of the health science lab. There students prepare for work as certified nursing assistants. “It’s a real-life set up before we send them out,” teacher Debbie Hutcheson said.
• Chef Chad Young said the culinary lab – along with a fully equipped restaurant and dining room one classroom over – was designed for 24 students. “Take a look around,” Young said. “We’re set up to be like any place a student might walk into after they leave.”
• Jeramy Madlung assured Trey Murillo, a third-grader from TSC’s Mintonye Elementary, of one thing as they shared the controls of a flight simulator that came through a partnership with Purdue University. “Flying is the easy part,” Madlung, a computer technician at the career academy, said during a dizzying attempt Wednesday. Madlung said the simulator was top in its field in the Windows 95 era, but it set up students to get a feel for flight and put them in line to get advanced work at Purdue as they progressed.
On Thursday, eighth-graders from the three school districts were scheduled to tour the Greater Lafayette Career Center. Miranda Hutcheson said parents interested in investigating a place at the academy should start by talking with guidance counselors and teachers at their children’s schools. For more information, here’s your link.
This and that …
COVID SHOTS FOR KIDS, BOOSTERS FOR OTHERS: With approval seemingly imminent that the Pfizer vaccine would be available to kids ages 5 to 11, Dr. Jeremy Adler, Tippecanoe County’s health officer, said Wednesday that the county’s clinic would be ready to go sometime next week, once the state health department gave the go-ahead.
Adler said he expected an initial surge in demand for vaccine in that age range, after the Food and Drug Administration this week recommended it for emergency use authorization. (The CDC was still hashing out details from there.) Whether that might mean mobile clinics at schools or other places kids and parents might be was still being worked out, Adler said.
Adler said Tippecanoe County’s overall vaccination rate was 54.7%, with eligible children younger than 18 running at about two-thirds of that. He said he expected similar rates for the youngest set, once they are eligible. “We certainly hope that there's good uptake of the vaccine among the 5 to 11-year-old children,” Adler said. “That helps not only protect them and their families, their siblings, their classmates, but also helps to protect the community, because it gets us closer to that population immunity mark, which is something we’ve been aiming for, obviously, since the vaccines became available.”
Of the more than 101,000 fully vaccinated residents in Tippecanoe County, 6,441 received booster shots since they became available in recent weeks, Adler said. “That’s great progress there,” Adler said.
County health department vaccine clinic hours: The clinic is at 1950 S. 18th St. (in the former YMCA, next to the Tippecanoe County 4-H Fairgrounds.) The hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday, noon-5 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday. To find pharmacies and other sites offering vaccines, check ourshot.in.gov.
MANUFACTURING WEEK, DIRECT TO SCHOOLS: Not directly staked to the Greater Lafayette Career Academy, but not far removed, Greater Lafayette Commerce last week introduced an interactive education program built around local industries that is going out free for the next year as part of its Manufacturing Month. It’s something Tippecanoe School Corp. Superintendent Scott Hanback was calling “a reverse field trip – one that will do wonders for our schools.”
Development of the Manufacturing Month software, similar to interactive learning programs designed for business and school training, came as a bit of silver lining during the shut-down days of the pandemic.
In a typical year, Greater Lafayette Commerce hosts hundreds of students for tours and other programs at local manufacturing plants. The idea is to give students a look at potential careers in manufacturing and what it takes to be trained and certified for the best of them. The goal for Greater Lafayette Commerce is to help local plants prep students for jobs once they graduate.
Kara Webb, Greater Lafayette Commerce’s workforce development director, said the pandemic nixed field trips. She said Greater Lafayette Commerce had videos and curriculum. Greater Lafayette Commerce worked with Eric Davis, founder of West Lafayette-based Skyepack, to assemble them into interactive virtual visits – customized by grade level and following a design it/produce it/move it/support it progression – that could be used in classrooms any time of the year.
With financing from more than a dozen local manufacturers, Greater Lafayette Commerce last week offered the program to schools at no cost for the next year.
“This really aligns with what we’ve been trying to offer our students at TSC already,” Hanback said. “Being able to fit this in during any time of 180 days of instruction instead of arranging to fit everything in every October changes things and takes some pressure off teachers.”
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