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High School Students Can Soon Graduate With Associate’s Degree

Baldwin County, Ala., schools are in the process of constructing a preparatory academy that will open for the 2024-25 school year and will provide training in a variety of trades to help students seamlessly transition into the workforce.

Starting next year, high school students in Baldwin County, Ala., Schools will be able to obtain vocational training and maybe even an associate degree—before they graduate.

“We’ve heard for years about the workforce has aged in Alabama. We constantly hear there’s no workers, we can’t find plumbers, we can’t find welders, we can’t find electrical technicians,” Eddie Tyler, superintendent of Baldwin County Schools, said. “We’re going to do something about it.”

Baldwin County Schools is in the process of constructing the Baldwin Preparatory Academy, a career training school on Alabama State Highway 59 in Loxley. Officials say it’s the first of its kind in the state. The 182,000 square-foot building is expected to open for the 2024-2025 school year and will serve 1,050 students from grades 10-12 once it’s fully operational.

Not only will students from Baldwin County public schools be able to enroll, but also students from private and religious schools, as well as other school systems, can apply for a waiver to enroll, Tyler said.

The school will provide training in a variety of trades, including welding, advanced manufacturing, health services and cosmetology. But unlike a traditional school, the students will also wear the uniforms for the field they’re training in and clock-in and clock-out. Academic classes will be tailored toward the trades the students are training in. The idea is that, when the students graduate, they’re ready for a seamless transition into the workforce.

“This is going to be a very unique, college-based kind of feel in that we don’t have the traditional classrooms,” John Wilson, Baldwin County Schools’ chief school finance officer, said. “We have open areas where you can work as a collaborative team. We also have areas where you can pull students out for small group instruction. It’s going to be a different approach to education than a lot of people have seen in some of our high schools.”

Students looking to go to Baldwin Prep will have to apply, have at least a 2.0 grade point average and generally be in good standing. Once they’re admitted, the students then pick the field that they want to study. They can also maintain a relationship with the school they transferred from and stay enrolled in those school’s extra-curricular activities, like marching band, if they want.

Baldwin County Schools is also looking to partner with Coastal Alabama Community College to offer classes on the campus, allowing students to graduate not just with a diploma but with an associate degree.

The hope is to provide the 32,000 students in Baldwin County Schools with more career technical training options. The school system already has two vocational training schools, North Baldwin Center for Technology and South Baldwin Center for Technology. But Baldwin Prep will offer more training options and allow for companies to partner with the school and provide hands-on learning for students, said Chasity Riddick, a spokesperson for Baldwin County Schools.

Baldwin County Schools is financing the construction of the school itself. The total cost of Baldwin Prep is expected to be $92-95 million, Wilson says. About $50 million of that funding is coming from a bond issue. The remaining funding is from local revenue, though some coronavirus relief money is being used for the purchase of the equipment.

Workforce development training is a priority throughout the state. Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield says that businesses place a higher value on locations with vocational training programs.

“Programs like those that are to be offered in Baldwin County are already proving that local industry is interested in the potential success such programs can offer, as demonstrated by the industry partnerships that are forming around the Baldwin Preparatory Academy,” Canfield said in an email. “Those communities are seen as desirable locations for new or expansion investments and the job opportunities those investments create within the region.”

Alabama State Sen. Chris Elliott, R- Fairhope, praised the project. He visited the site with Alabama Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth earlier this summer. Elliott says that education programs such as Baldwin Prep are crucial to developing workforce in Alabama.

“We have 65 percent of our kids that graduate from high school in Alabama, and have no intention of going to college,” Elliott said. “That’s fine. But what are they going to do? Tomorrow, you graduated, what are you going to do? Our education system needs to be set up to teach people, teach kids how to go to work.”

In addition to Baldwin Prep, the school system is close to completing over $300 million in new construction projects through its “Pay As You Go” program, using cash and no long-term bonds or new taxes. Phase 5 of the program is set to begin this fall.

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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