Photos Andy Calvert
High school students hoping to shed their cap and gown, and head for a career or college, need not look any further than Rome City Schools’ new College and Career Academy.
What does a public school system that is plugged into the latest employment trends do for their students, you may ask?
Well, if you are an administrator, school board member or educator with Rome City Schools (RCS), you build a 165,000-square-foot facility filled with the latest technology and houses industry-standard equipment aimed at teaching next wave Wolves to be workforce ready.
Rome City Schools opened the doors to their new College and Career Academy (CCA) in January of 2021. Students who are enrolled in one of the 25-plus career pathways offered at Rome High School started the spring semester getting to know the lay of the land and are excited about the opportunities available to them long after the ink is dry on their high school diplomas.
RCS Board members and system administrators now see the finished product in all its glory.
Funded by monies collected from an ESPLOST vote passed in 2017, Rome City’s CCA has attracted the attention of other school systems in the state. When coupled with an established work-study program, RCS educators now have the tools they need to help students learn about career paths long before they must craft a résumé.
All students will graduate from Rome High School prepared for college or for work is the mission of Rome City Schools. Since combining East and West Rome’s student body in 1992, RCS has almost perfected the formula for getting those students who have ambitions of higher education well on the way to their goal. However, educators realize that all students do not want to attend college, and to be ready for the workplace after graduation, they had to give their students hands-on opportunities and classroom space was a challenge.
“This has been a five-year-long process that started out small but has expanded over time. However, this is what our students need to have the best opportunities before they graduate,” Byars says. “We are excited about finally opening the doors of the CCA to our students and to our community. A lot of people have put in a lot of hard work, and we are just excited to finally let our community experience new ways we are working to enhance the education of Rome City Schools students.”
Byars goes on to say that because of the heavy focus RCS has placed on career-based curriculum, the system needed more room for programs. By building additional classroom space, Rome High School can also accommodate their growing student body. And since numbers never lie, a rundown of their student population involved in career pathways will most certainly provide clarity for those people interested in the vision behind the CCA.
Currently, there 2,422 college and career academy courses enrolled at Rome High School. Wolves in the dual enrollment program, a program offered by RHS that allows students to receive college credit before graduation by taking classes at local colleges, is 285. Their programs have seen 374 pathway completers; 46 students eligible for certified nursing assistant certification in 2019-2020; 30 college level courses offered on RHS campus; 210 earned industry credentials from 2018 through 2020; 210 students earned CPR/BLS certifications in 2019-2020; and 1,222 college credits have been earned from 2018 to 2020.
Career and technical student organizations include: DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America); Future Business Leaders of America; Family, Career and Community Leaders of America; Future Farmers of America; First Robotics, Health Occupations Students of America; Skills USA and more.
So, the need for growth has long been apparent to RCS administrators. To provide the quality of programs needed to serve their students, Rome City Schools had to move beyond the walls of current facilities and into the future of education.
Many of the current career pathways at RHS have found a new home in the CCA. From animation and digital media to disciplines rooted in healthcare, pathways that were once located in the high school are taught in rooms with the same equipment professionals use in the workplace.
For example, the legal services and applications of law pathway has classroom space for instruction, but the instructor can also teach from the bench. A mock courtroom, complete with a robe and gavel, is a great visual representation of the discipline. A first-class commercial kitchen will be used to teach students to sauté and sear a steak, and the automotive classroom is outfitted with vehicle lifts and all the tools needed to tune an engine.
A full veterinary office, an Air Force JROTC space that would make any member of the military member salivate, engineering and technology toys for those students who love to tinker, and an early childhood education classroom are just a few of the bells and whistles that make the new building an exciting place to learn.
“We took a look at all of the growing industries when selecting classes to offer in our CCA,” says Byars. “We even have a room for cybersecurity, which according to our research is in extremely high demand right now and will be in the future. Our goal is to offer something for any passion our students may have and help them to build a career around what things interest them most.”
In addition to the hybrid work-study classrooms, the CCA also houses state-of-the-art athletic facilities. Located near the rear of the building is a weight room outfitted with everything needed to get stronger; a 50-yard indoor practice field with batting cages that drop from the ceiling; an athletic training room that will not only keep athletes healthy but offer healthcare students the chance to learn sports medicine; and an equipment room that holds gear for the Wolves. Each area in the athletic department has an integrated Bose system allowing Rome’s coaches to pipe music into practice situations. Getting pumped up for practice is a lot easier with the help of upbeat tunes.
A school store, a food pantry and clothes closet, a student support center and an onsite medical clinic staffed by RCS community partner Floyd Medical Center add a community element to the Rome City Schools CCA. The goal for educators was to offer a hub for their students; they wanted a place where student support was not a second thought, it was a priority second only to education.
“When we started talking about putting this building together,” says head coach and athletic director for Rome City Schools, John Reid. “I was pretty basic in the things I thought our students should have. From that plan came much of our thought process about what we could offer outside of that spectrum. With my experience, I knew we needed things like the auto shop and many of the other facilities came together with that design. With the classrooms in the front and our labs in the back, we offer a learning environment that is versatile. What they have done with our culinary classroom is absolutely amazing. The design of the building lends itself to us doing other things with the space. For example, we can offer training in the front of the classrooms and never disturb students working in the labs.”
Reid worked closely with the architects, Southern A&E, in planning the layout and construction of the CCA. After moving in, representatives of the firm have created a video to highlight this accomplishment; they have told Reid and others in the system that Rome City Schools’ building is one of the most impressive in the country for high school programs.
“I thought it was interesting that some of the architects from Southern A&E showed up for our open house. Their guys were kidding with them because they never show up for open houses scheduled for facilities they build. They are usually on to the next drawing,” Reid recalls. “They said that our building was unique in its design and in its purpose, and they wanted to see the finished result. They were so impressed with their design and as they walked through, just like everyone else, they were wowed.
“The athletic section of the building is a culmination of 30 years of fighting and struggling for space. All high school programs have this issue,” Reid continues. “Learning about challenges I faced helped us to create a facility that allows all of our programs to better serve our kids, including our training room where Floyd Medical Center can help us with the health of our athletes.”
Reid says there is much more than taping ankles that happens in the training room. From ice baths to mobility exercises, there is room to accurately assess the physical condition of students involved in sports.
“What was astonishing to me, was the architects were able to create the space using the exact dimensions we drew up on paper,” Reid said as he reflects on the planning and construction process. “The indoor space was exactly what we planned, and the weight room is designed so there is space for strength coaches to walk in and out of the stations and clean them properly.”
Reid says there is such an ebb and flow in career emphasis in our country that creating a place that would foster skilled labor in the workforce was a challenge. The Rome City Schools system starts at the elementary level in exposing students to work-ready programs, so that they can meet their goal of graduating 100 percent of their students with career ready training.
“It is our goal that every Rome City Schools student will leave our high school as a pathway completer. Right now, we are at around an 80 percent completion rate for earning pathways. With this new facility, there is something here for all students. Because of the many opportunities we should have no problem reaching our 100 percent completion goal,” says Misty Tucker, associate principal whose office is inside the CCA. “I am so happy that we can meet the educational needs of all of our students and give them the tools necessary for success after graduation.”
Dr. Eric Holland, principal at RHS, echoes Tucker and speaks about the feedback he has received from not only the students, but also from their parents.
“Everyone is wearing masks, but you can see the excitement in their eyes,” Dr. Holland says. “I tell our parents that kids do not know their opportunities until they have been introduced to opportunities. So, I am excited about the conversations I have had with all the families who have visited our new CCA. The energy is positive, and the feeling is just absolutely amazing. We want to introduce the opportunities that will create that spark for a student.”
“I am excited to be able to show our incredible Rome City Schools College and Career Academy,” Byars says with a satisfied smile. “To finally be able to give our kids an opportunity to have something that will help them as they prepare for the future is what it is all about. In Rome City Schools, we all work to provide the absolute best opportunities for our kids.”
For more information about the Rome City Schools College and Career Academy, please visit rcs.rome.ga.us or keep up with what is happening in the system by liking the Rome City Schools Facebook page. For additional information about the school system, call the Central Office at 706-236-5050.