RACINE COUNTY — In the eyes of Eric Gallien, Racine Unified’s next superintendent, the district’s new career academies program is a way for high school students to “find themselves.”
The Academies of Racine are small learning communities that provide real-world experiences with local businesses and professionals, linking schoolwork and the workplace. Students can choose between 14 career pathways, focusing on things such as engineering or business, as examples.
During an event about the progress of the Academies of Racine program hosted by Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce Tuesday at Roma Lodge in Mount Pleasant, Gallien drew connections between the program and his experiences in high school.
Gallien, currently the district’s deputy superintendent, grew up in a single-parent home in the Milwaukee housing projects.
“We were very poor, coming up,” he said.
Gallien said that, during high school, he was somewhat of a class clown but was always able to bring people together, whether it was meeting at McDonald’s after school or going to the homecoming game.
“That wasn’t always productive, but I had a principal and teacher that saw those skills in me, who saw that leadership ability,” Gallien said.
They introduced him to his school’s business education program, and his teacher challenged him to write his own business plan. Gallien accepted the challenge and found funding for his business project.
“I was able to really learn a lot about who I was as a student,” he said.
This experience helped Gallien to re-engage in school. He went on to join the U.S. Marine Corps and to obtain two master’s degrees and a doctorate.
Gallien said it was the introduction to business that put him on the path toward success, and he said that is exactly what the Academies of Racine aim to do.
“It’s to really give these students an opportunity to find themselves,” he said.
The academies program began last year with the freshman academy. Freshmen students took part in a commitment-to-graduate ceremony, attended the district’s See Your Future Expo and visited college campuses. They also learned soft skills like how to shake hands and the importance of making eye contact.
Then, they participated in a spring freshman declaration day, in which they decided which academy they would attend. Now those students, who are currently sophomores, are attending their chosen academies.
Jaylen Love, a sophomore academy ambassador in the health services pathway, spoke about his experiences last year.
“Overall I felt that the academy program itself was a great experience for me, because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I graduated from high school and attending the See Your Future Expo, that kind of helped give me the idea of all the types of careers around the Racine area and the different things that I can do,” Love said.
Through the academies, the district aims for every student to have the opportunity to leave high school with industry credentials or college credits.
According to Gallien, so far 180 business and community organizations have committed to partnering with the school district on the program. And more than 400 teachers have visited businesses and college campuses to find out what their students need to learn to set them up for future success.
Last year, 89 percent of freshmen attended school on a regular basis, 91 employers and civic partners were involved in school programs, and 284 community volunteers were involved in the program.
One of the most significant numbers, Gallien said, is the 123 co-op and youth apprenticeships that were offered to students.
“That makes Racine Unified the No. 1 district in the state of Wisconsin as it relates to those types of experiences,” he said.
At the end of the last school year, 60.5 percent of freshman had obtained seven or more credits, and there was a reduction in office discipline referrals.
The average freshman grade-point average last year was 2.3. Gallien said the district is making efforts to improve that this year.