Dawson County High School officially unveiled its newest facility, the College and Career Academy, to the community Sept. 10 in a special ribbon cutting ceremony.
“This facility’s possible – the Dawson County College and Career Academy is made possible – 100 percent by the community of Dawson County,” said Superintendent Damon Gibbs.
The $7 million facility located adjacent to Dawson County High School’s main building was funded completely through ESPLOST. It closes out the last capital project of ESPLOST V.
“I’m an old vocational teacher so this is a dream facility for me, but I’ve got to tell you, we’re preparing every child in this school system for a vocation,” Gibbs said. “It’s our hope that we graduate students college and career ready.”
The 35,000 square foot facility houses the high school’s career, technical and education pathways with labs and classroom space dedicated to business, marketing, engineering, health science, criminal justice, science, early childhood education and culinary arts.
Space for a construction lab and an audio and visual studio were also built into the facility for future growth.
Ground officially broke on the CCA Sept. 10, 2018 and the facility was completed by Carroll Daniel Construction in July 2019. It opened for students in August for the 2019-20 school year.
“We broke ground a year ago and we have people asking ‘how is it possible to build a facility like that in less than 12 months,’ and (Carroll Daniel Construction) pulled it off, even with a really rainy time that we were in,” Gibbs said.
“We’re excited,” said Amy Smith, CTAE Director. “We’re very blessed. We’re feeling very blessed every day that we come in this building.”
Smith reported during the Sept. 10 board of education meeting, which was held in the CCA’s multipurpose meeting room, that 459 students currently take courses in the new facility.
The CCA also offers an English, a history and a math dual enrollment course in which 61 students are currently enrolled.
“My goal is that when our students graduate from Dawson County, if they’re going postsecondary, that is great, but once they finish postsecondary we want them to come back to Dawson County and invest in their community,” Smith said.
Though it has only been the first six weeks of school, teachers in the CCA are already seeing positive impacts on the students.
Criminal Justice instructor Jeff Perry said his program has been a hit with students, especially now that his teaching space allows for not only ample classroom space but space for mock crime scenes and soon-to-be-virtual reality crime scene simulations.
“We also have where we can do forensic case studies where we will start from the very beginning until it concludes in an arrest. We go through all the steps and those are really neat,” Perry said. “Kids love those.”
Perry said the program and the hands-on learning experiences have helped students understand how many careers are available under the criminal justice umbrella.
“A lot of times when they take the class, a lot of them think ‘safety’ or ‘criminal justice’ - they think it’s just being a police man or a lawyer, but there are so many different things that they can go and do,” Perry said.
The Culinary Arts program has also opened opportunities for students with a new commercial size kitchen complete with stainless steel appliances and amenities in the CCA.
It’s quite the step up from the program’s previous location, an old home ec classroom that helped set the foundation for the future of the program.
“When I first came in, it gave me a chance to build the program from a home ec environment just to get the kids excited about it, build a foundation so when we moved in to the facility we were ready to go,” said Culinary Arts instructor Terry Haymond.
Throughout the design process, Haymond said teacher input was important to the school system, and having come from a similar environment with a commercial kitchen set up, he knew exactly how he wanted this new learning space to be designed.
Windows were placed throughout the space so that Haymond can maintain an eye on his students from his office or classroom while they operate appliances inside the kitchen.
“I’m just glad that the kids get to experience, to see and touch and feel things, that allows them to be employable right now,” Haymond said.
Students see the same equipment that they would see in a commercial kitchen on a job site, and while Haymond said students may not become proficient on every piece of equipment through his courses, they will become comfortable in the environment and be career ready.
“Culinary arts is a huge part of our community and they can be employable right away,” Haymond said. “For them to feel comfortable going in to a restaurant and not being intimidated by seeing equipment that they don’t even know how to run yet, but the willingness to learn that skill is really what this is - to learn how to manage themselves and work as a team and to be ready to be employable.”
But the CCA is not just about helping students become ready for the next step. It’s also about fostering a learning environment that feels like home and allows students to flourish.
“I spend a lot of time here so for me personally, I like for it to feel like home, but the kids like it too,” said Early Childhood Education teacher Lori Grant.
Her room is decorated in cozy farmhouse chic and tones of grey and cream, a comfortable couch, tall tables with whiteboard tops, a kitchenette and space to set up a mock elementary school classroom.
“They love this room,” Grant said. “They love being able to spread out more. In my other room we were kind of all on top of each other.”
Grant said the extra space is about to help her students as they work on creating life size posters that will span from infancy to 12 years-old.
“This will give us so much more room,” Grant said. “In the other building, I had people in the hallway, next door across the hall when that teacher had planning, in the conference room. I had kids everywhere so that’s been really good.”
The CCA will continue to grow and change throughout the year, with new equipment being purchased and installed in the labs as grant money continues coming in that will help Dawson County High School fulfills its goal of graduating students that are prepared to return to their community to find careers.
“We want them to invest back in our community,” Smith said.