After years of planning, dreaming and finally budgeting for a bond package, Arlington school administrators finally have been able to put a big bow on the new Dan Dipert Career & Technical Center.
The 169,800 square-foot facility at 2101 Browning Drive opened a limited class schedule in August, and now the spring semester has seen the full complement of 33 programs and 17 professional certifications come online. Four more are set to go in the 2018-19 school year.
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“This is a game-changer,” said Craig Wright, director of career and technical education for the district. “It’s not revolutionary, it’s evolutionary. We’ve gotten to really expand our course offerings and sequences.”
And now that they’ve built it, enthusiastic students are coming from every part of the district.
By next academic year, Wright expects to encounter a student waiting list for many programs, including the fire and police academies and the welding program.
Depending on the program, students can take required exams and graduate high school with professional certifications, free of charge. The savings versus career and vocational schools can be in the $10,000 range, he said.
The center can serve 2,400 students each day. High school juniors and seniors attend their academic classes and extracurricular activities on their home campuses, and are transported by bus to the center for their career and tech classes.
The center was named for Arlington tourism businessman Dan Dipert, who has supported Arlington school initiatives and served as a school board member. Community partnerships with businesses and agencies provide job shadowing, internships, materials and highly skilled mentors who help students understand the real-world applications of a given field.
“This career tech center is really significant for our students,” Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos said. “Our students can now access programs that they had not been able to before. The students we have spoken with are engaged, motivated, inspired and confident in being prepared for their future.”
The center sits on the east Arlington site formerly occupied by Hutcheson Junior High and original Sam Houston High School. Its construction was one of the district’s centerpiece projects included in a wide-ranging $663.1 million bond package passed in 2014.
The district worked with VLK Architects to make sure the center’s open layout around spacious walkways encourages cooperation between programs. The horticultural program might grow food that the culinary classes might use to prepare food on-site. Students training in the fire and police academies and emergency medical technician courses can work together in simulated drills the way they would in real emergencies.
Career program tracks include automotive technology, architectural design, animation, audio and video recording, broadcasting, business and marketing, cosmetology, building construction, culinary/hospitality, fire academy, graphic design, health sciences, horticulture, information technology, law enforcement, photography, precision manufacturing, sports medicine, emergency medical tech and welding.
The district’s entire data center operations have been moved from several sites into the career and technology center, freeing up space in other facilities.
Soon, members of the community can sample the students’ skills firsthand at low cost. A haircut done by seniors in the cosmetology department costs as little as $5. A wheel alignment or brake job performed by the automotive technology department, a flower arrangement from the horticultural class or a light meal in the bistro cafe whipped up by culinary students are other options. A brochure is available at www.aisd.net/career-technical-center.
In some ways, it’s a futuristic world inside the sprawling, clean-lined facility that resembles a new college building more than a high school. A realistic hospital ward for medical techs includes dummy patients that moan and cry, and can be programmed with symptoms of a variety of ailments.
A law enforcement virtual training system prepares would-be police recruits for crime scene encounters. (“If they decide that they do not want to go into police work, that’s a win, too,” said Arlington police officer Fred Kemp, police academy coordinator, military veteran and onetime English literature teacher.)
“It has exceeded our expectations in course offerings and programs,” Cavazos said of the spacious new center. “It is a vision that has become a reality for our district.”
Cavazos indicated that the sleek, gray and red interiors with inspirational words in giant letters and the soaring exterior facing Pioneer Parkway represent a work in progress, a “constant journey.”
““The journey to the opening of this facility was through student input, teacher input and industry input,” Cavazos said. “We have a master plan for expansion and adaptability for new careers and opportunities as they arise in the future.”