Recently, members of the Labor Force Development Council (LFDC) of west central Minnesota toured Alexandria, Minn.'s brand new high school, which will open this fall. Why would a group interested in regional workforce development want to tour a school--and not even a post-secondary one? Because of the unique collaboration between the school, city and area businesses to create a high school dedicated to helping students build the skills to succeed in their chosen careers. The group's overall response? In a word: WOW.
Sporting a new, official tour guide blazer, senior Emily took the group through the building, starting in the impressive light-filled commons area that serves as the cafeteria, lounge and informal gathering grounds. Space to gather and work together—either in small or large groups—explains the facility’s entire layout. The school is made up of learning “academies,” smaller communities of students with interests in similar fields, including engineering, manufacturing technologies and natural resources, health sciences and human services, and business, communication and entrepreneurship. Each academy has its own section in the school. Instead of a series of duplicate classrooms, the rooms are every size, from small-group space that fit four people, to larger rooms that have movable tables and walls, and smart monitors that make it easy for teachers to show lessons and students to share work from their tablets.
COMMUNITY & LOCAL BUSINESS INTEGRAL
“State-of-the-art” was a phrase often used during the tour, from the fitness center to the manufacturing lab to the performing arts center. Special touches like the rosewood flooring in the music rooms, known for its acoustic properties, wouldn’t be possible without generous donations from the community and area businesses. Donors are thanked very publicly with a unique wood contributors’ wall overlooking the school’s commons area, and a special medallion and plaque hung by the doors of rooms where contributions have been made.
AN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TOOL
The Alexandria Economic Development Commission has played a vital role in the development of the new school; so much so that it hired Dana Bernardy as its community and workforce development coordinator to oversee the process. Bernardy works with teachers and businesses to fashion a curriculum that will help make sure students are obtaining the knowledge and skills needed for today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. It begins in ninth grade where, along with typical courses, freshman will go through a year-long career exploration to help determine where their talents and interests lie.
“AAHS is the first school in the state to offer this kind of model of teaching and learning, the collaboration between the district and community resources speaks volumes to the need to invest in our future,” Bernardy said.