Online career academy off to a good start

Originally published in The McFarland Thistle - November 3, 2016

The newest school in McFarland has 71 students who are focusing on career education and exploration. Destinations Career Academy (DCA), a subsidiary of Wisconsin Virtual Academy, opened this fall. This online learning environment allows students to study in one of four career paths. Those students can earn technical and specialty trade credentials along with a high school diploma upon graduating.

Head of School Nich Sutherland said the initial projection for the number of students enrolling in DCA during the first year was 63. This was based upon the number of students who enrolled during the first year of WIVA.

It is expected the number of students enrolling in DCA will grow in the coming years, Sutherland said.

“There is nothing like this program in the region,” the head of school said. “It’s new and unique, and the people who are enrolled in it, they are extremely excited about it. We’ve seen a high degree of engagement of those students.”

Students can explore one of four career clusters: business management and administration, health sciences, information technology and construction.

The Operating Engineers Union 139 is working with the school to create a curriculum for heavy machinery operation.

“They’ve made a significant investment in our program,” Sutherland said of the labor union.

All other curriculum is being provided by various technical schools in Wisconsin. As for the hands-on components for the pathways, there are virtual simulators available. DCA will make connections with area businesses for youth apprenticeship programs for juniors and seniors.

Sutherland said students need to be involved in the program for at least two years to complete a career pathway and get an industry certification. More than half of the enrollees are freshman and sophomores, which the head of school said demonstrates there is a population interested in completing a program of study at DCA.

Sutherland said there were students who were denied entry to DCA due to credit deficiencies. Those students were enrolled in WIVA to recover the credits to be eligible to take part in the career academy.

“WIVA has a strong credit retrieval program that has proven to be successful,” he said. “If those students get caught up they are welcome to request a transfer to DCA if they’d like to.”

The geographic locations of the DCA pupils is similar to the WIVA enrollment with a large number coming from the Milwaukee area and other metropolitan cities across the state. Sutherland said the larger districts that offer career and technical education programs struggle to offer a complete pathway and none of them offer online only options.

“We have high expectations for this program, and we think it’s going to meet the needs for career and technical education in the state,” Sutherland said. “We look forward to partnering with more districts.”

KEYWORDS: Wisconsin Virtual Academy, Wisconsin

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