STURTEVANT — Starting next school year, every Racine Unified high school will offer at least one specialized pathway of study to its students.
The REAL School, 10116 Stellar Ave., began its new programming with just one pathway — mechanical engineering — last year. The students who started out in the pathway volunteered to be a part of it as freshmen, and now the 25 of them should earn 16 credits apiece from Gateway Technical College by the end of this school year.
Gateway and Racine Unified have partnered to create The REAL School’s pathways, with students attending college-level classes at the nearby SC Johnson iMET Center, 2320 Renaissance Blvd., in their chosen areas of focus.
Next school year, the REAL School will offer three career pathways: Electrical engineering, robotics/advanced manufacturing and computer numeric control (or CNC/tool and die).
Next year’s sophomores are the first who will be required to choose one of the three pathways, and from then forward all 10th grade REAL School students will take classes at the iMET in their pathway of focus.
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What are pathways?
The pathways are a set of elective courses meant to prepare students for a career right out of high school or to continue on in college. Racine Unified’s three comprehensive high schools — Case, Horlick and Park — implemented the Academies of Racine beginning with freshmen in fall 2016. Each of those schools has three academies, like the Academy of Business and Culinary Art, that all contain multiple pathways. Because The REAL School is much smaller, Principal Curt Shircel considers the school itself to be a “pocket academy” with just three three career pathways.
According to Shircel, the school determined its pathways after surveying this year’s freshmen about their interests after they had taken a course that introduced them to various science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM-related career opportunities. A freshman seminar class, that will be required for all ninth-grade students, gives them a chance to explore eight possible careers through 5-week hands-on labs at the iMET.
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The focus on math and science at the REAL School is a shift from its past as a typical liberal arts high school. Next year’s seniors and the juniors who did not opt in to the mechanical engineering pathway will finish out their high school careers at the REAL School with a liberal arts education.
Shircel said he and his team have been working to inform school families about the new pathways and what they’ll mean for students through orientations at the middle and high school level.
“Sometimes families might want that small school experience but they’re not really always considering what that academic focus is,” Shircel said. “We want students to understand what they’re getting into.”
For example, a student who doesn’t love math and science might struggle in an electrical engineering pathway that requires geometry and pre-calculus courses.
“It’s definitely helpful to like math and science to be at our school, that probably gives you a little more of a motivational advantage, but it’s not required,” Shircel said.
The school’s goal is for every student to have a minimum of 20 college credits upon graduation, through the new pathways. That would basically start these students out with one year of college credit under their belts, which can save parents money as Gateway charges about $134 per credit and University of Wisconsin-Parkside charges about $304.
There are still some openings at The REAL School for 2019-20 in the robotics/advanced manufacturing and electrical engineering pathways at the 10th grade level. Students and parents who are interested can call Shircel at 262-664-8100.
Walden III High School will offer one optional pathway, freshwater resources, to its freshmen next year. The program aims to prepare students for an associate degree and will also be offered through a partnership with Gateway, but will be taught at Walden by an Unified employee.