WACO, Texas – In 2012, leaders at Waco Independent School District got the same call from state leaders in Austin that other districts were also getting. The state was cutting billions in public K-12 education and WISD was going to lose $3.4 million.
After months of debate and meetings, the district voted to close nine campuses, but two of those campuses have a new purpose.
SHADES OF SOUTH SAN: Waco ISD talks about closing schools, changing lives
What’s 3/8 plus 1/5?
A basic sounding addition of fractions, but it is an important one at the Greater Waco Manufacturing Academy, where students learn about welding, electronic and robotics and precision metal manufacturing.
Before opening in 2013, the GWAMA campus used to teach elementary students.
Students have left the school and gone to work at local iron works companies, while others enter the workforce and continue to pursue additional certification.
In a profession, such as welding, that is all about fractions, the district realized not all students would be successful. So when local builders came to the district with a $100,000 grant to help teach construction skills the decision was a no-brainer, Cain said. Students can walk out of the school with job skills they might not have been able to get elsewhere.
A new heartbeat
The success of GWAMA brought about the addition of another career campus.
“This is our simulation lab, and our students are getting prepared for their certified nurse aid exam,” Krystal Wilson, assistant director of the Greater Waco Advanced Healthcare Academy, said. “So that is part of their curriculum here.”
Students, in either the morning or afternoon group, walk into what used to be the library at Viking Hills Elementary School and practice on mannequins or each other as they learn skills to become healthcare providers.
After getting their CNA, second-year students will then do rotations twice a week at the two major hospitals in Waco.
But getting to this point was no east task.
“When we moved in, it was a complete blank slate,” Wilson said. “So it was a lot of fun making that transition and getting all these wonderful components in for our kiddos.”
In its second year, the new school is already showing promise. So far, 18 of the soon-to-be graduating high school seniors have job offers.
Filing a gap
After closing several campuses in 2012, Waco ISD had the room, but it turned to the business community to determine what it needed to help create jobs in Central Texas.
“We were tired of our young people leaving to get jobs somewhere else,” Dr. Bonny Cain, superintendent for WISD, said. “We were tired of some employers saying they were not going to come to Waco, because (we) don’t have a workforce.”
Cain said when it came to starting the career campuses, she wanted to make sure the business community was there every step of the way.
“They wanted workforce-ready kids,” she said. “And they were willing to come and help us.”
That included listening when leaders said which programs would offer the students the best shot of being career-ready or able to continue their education upon graduation.
But hopes and dreams were not going to be enough. The district needed money to makes the schools a reality.
The schools have gotten multiple donations from companies and businesses in Central Texas, including a $6 million grant with more promised.
Two grants, a $2.5 million contribution from the federal government and $80,000 from a local business, are pending.
“This is a great program," Wilson said. "It gives our students a great opportunities to move forward into the community. It fits a need for our community. It fits a need for our students.”
A good fit that is a solution for the students, the community and the local economy.
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