A year after opening, KISD’s Keller Center for Advanced Learning (KCAL) has become a special place where high school students can learn about and focus on their future careers. And starting this August, the center is up and running at full capacity.
The high school opened last year at this time, offering programs for the 2016-2017 academic year in veterinary sciences/agriculture, animation, architecture and construction, audio/video technology, automotive technology, commercial photography, cosmetology and graphic design. But that was only half the story. Many rooms within the redesigned building, former home of South Keller Intermediate, were still being constructed and equipped for the second round of programs slated for the 2017-2018 school year.
This school year, the fields of study have expanded to include criminal forensics, culinary arts, health sciences, information technology, law enforcement and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — a program that features robotics, aerospace, digital electronics, engineering design and development). Students will have access to 14 career-oriented programs, each equipped with the latest tools and technology currently in use “in the real world.”
The Center for Advanced Learning draws its students from the other high schools in KISD — Keller, Central, Fossil Ridge and Timber Creek. Those buildings are considered the students’ “home schools.”
In the past, each high school offered its own career-oriented courses and limited practicum opportunities along with education in core subjects – English, history, math, etc. According to KCAL Principal Leslee Shepherd, the district has consolidated much of the career technology resources to ensure that every student gets the same experience regardless of home school. For example, students interested in engineering take beginning courses in the ninth and tenth grades at their home school, then travel to KCAL a few hours a week for advanced engineering classes. In fact, the district’s entire robotics program has moved to the learning center.
Students have the opportunity to participate in field-based learning experiences that lead to a senior practicum made possible by the community and business partnerships created for KCAL by the district.
Recent graduate Bailee O’Brien gained experience working with animals that will help her toward her goal of working the ranching industry.
She did an internship at Fancy Pants Ranch in Keller “where I fed horses, rode horses, fixed fences — we had foals this spring, so we made a pen for them.” O’Brien says she helped with “a lot of projects here and there that were necessary.”
The 18-year-old says her time at KCAL helped her decide on her career path. “Before starting my internship, I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but once starting, all of my plans fell into place and I knew exactly where I wanted to go in life.”
She calls her experience inspiring and enlightening.
“At KCAL, I learned the value of going the extra mile. Any bit of extra work I did didn’t go unnoticed and was very much appreciated,” she says. “Being in class (at KCAL) only twice a week I learned to stay ahead in my work and make sure senioritis didn’t take over.”
O’Brien, who will major in animal science at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, says she’s already putting what she learned at KCAL into practice.
“Since I worked at an internship this year, I already got to start applying what I’ve learned,” she says. “While I got to work at the horse ranch, I also helped out at my grandparents’ cattle ranch out in West Texas. I learned a lot about nutrition and health management that can help me to run a successful herd of cattle.”
Bodie Carroll, an instructor in the Veterinary Science, says the roughly 275 students in program get hands-on experience with “pretty much every species of animal that you would see in the United States,” from chinchillas and rabbits, to dogs and cats, to horses and cattle.
According to Carroll, roughly half of the students who get into his program want to become veterinarians or work in animal sciences. About a quarter want to do something animal-related for a career, and the other quarter just want to be around the animals, he says. Many of his students participate in Future Farmers of America (FFA), for which he is a sponsor.
Students can participate in career and technical student organizations (like FFA) and can receive college credit within their field of study. Depending on the program, students go on to college with a clearer expectation of their career path, or head into the workforce with experience and sometimes even certifications and licensures.
Cosmetology instructor Leigh Crump is excited about being in a growing program that can lead to employment opportunities for her students.
Last year’s cosmetology program included roughly 25 sophomores in Intro to Cosmetology, 45 juniors in Cosmetology 1 and 13 seniors in Cosmetology 2, she said.
“Our cosmetology program will grow for the 2017-2018 school year,” Crump said. She expects to have 75 to 100 sophomores in the introductory class, 65 to 75 juniors for Cosmetology 1 and 43 returning seniors for Cosmetology 2.
The goal in the Cosmetology Department is straightforward, Crump said: “For our students to be prepared to enter the workforce with a cosmetology operator license upon graduation.”
Earning a cosmetology operator’s license in Texas allows a person to provide hair, skin and nail services.
“I am proud when they complete the state-required hours, pass the written and practical tests and receive their license,” Crump said. “I enjoy the day-to-day success stories and watching their confidence grow over the course of the two- to three-year program.”
Much like any beauty school, KCAL will operate a full-service salon in which all services are performed by the students under the supervision of an instructor. Studio K will be open Saturdays starting Sept. 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Crump says.
Challenges and champions
Getting students from the other high schools to the center presented a logistical challenge to the district.
“We operated with Durham (the district’s transportation provider) a shuttle to and from each home campus for each period, and it worked well,” Shepherd, the principal, said. Students also could buy parking passes and drive themselves to KCAL, as well.
The district was able to develop partnerships with veterinarians, auto repair shops and car dealers, among other businesses. It also is collaborating with the city of Keller, the Keller Police Department, DeLoitte University in Westlake, Peterbilt, Toni and Guy, Steele and Freeman, Creekside Pet Center, Summerfields Animal Hospital and MCA, to name just a few, Shepherd said.
“We are constantly working with our partners to be able to provide for our students,” Shepherd said. “We hope to continue to maintain these relationships, as well as create other scholarship opportunities for their future growth.”
Opening programs over a two-year period also has been a challenge.
“It is challenging to open school in two different years,” Shepherd said. “But, this has turned out to be a blessing because we have learned many things that will be helpful for the second round.”
KCAL’s 14 Fields of Study
Architecture and Construction
New this year:
STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math