by David Tesitor
WALSENBURG — For the past six months plans have been underway to offer an alternative education program to the students of Huerfano County who are considered at risk, meaning they have dropped out of a traditional high school and want to earn a degree while at the same time learning a vocational trade. The E-cademy and the Career Building Academy will operate out of the abandoned Lathrop Youth Center located near the hospital.
The program will offer a vocational curriculum through RE-1. Such a curriculum has not been in place for several years and this is a means to provide former students with a means of learning a skill and earning their high school diploma.
Joy Cross, who serves as the school’s education administrator, says “statistics show that those with a high school diploma stand a better chance of getting a job than those who do not.” Her partner and co- founder of the school, Rich Johnson will head up the vocational side of the program.
The E-cademy began in Colorado Springs operating as a private, not-for-profit program under Harrison District 12. It provided home construction instruction as well as a computer based instruction. The Career Building Academy, run by Johnson will also offer programs in culinary arts and a CNA program to give their students a choice of the career paths.
So far, the school has partnered with local companies who will benefit from the skills the programs’ graduates can bring to the workforce. The companies include The Kaspia Group, Chaé Organics and the Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center, all of which may utilize the graduates as interns and then full time employees.
To understand the program in a simplistic form; at-risk students who enroll in the program will receive the per student financial allotment provided to the school district. They in turn will pay back a smaller portion to the district. The numbers provided have not been finalized, but the amount coming back to the school is close to 23% of the total. This is not a windfall for the school. There are several issues which are still being ironed out which have financial ramifications.
On the surface, the program sounds like it will be beneficial for the community. So far many local workers have been hired to clean up the old Lathrup building to get it ready for the proposed August 19 opening date. Also hired is Eddie West who will head up the culinary arts program. The school will have a fully stocked kitchen facility for learning the finer details of creating baked goods, appetizers, fine cuisine and gourmet desserts.
Former RE-1 principal, Doc Siders will head the academic program as their superintendent of schools. Local contractor and architect, Bob Martin, will be in charge of the vocational building trades program. The school plans on building two homes over the next year.
According to Cross, the school will be open August 19 with 75 expected students. The academy is planning an open house slated for August 12-14 from 5 pm to 7 pm, and they are inviting everyone out to the campus located east of SPRHC on highway 160 to visit and get their additional questions answered.
To be continued. Part 2 will explore questions still to be answered concerning funding and eligible students.