LOWER TOWNSHIP — When Lower Cape May Regional High School senior Ryan Riess graduates next year, he envisions already having 12 college credits in civil engineering and architecture.
The credits and what he learned in high school could help him get into the college of his choice and jumpstart a career.
“I’m looking at the engineering field. I’m looking at Rowan, TCNJ and Stockton,” Riess said.
The new engineering program here is one of several designed to get students ready for college and the job market. The district still stresses the basics, the three R’s, but several years ago completely revamped the curriculum with more electives geared to the job market.
Seven years ago, there wasn’t one student here who left with a college credit. Last yea,r students earned more than 550 college credits from seven different colleges and universities. Many students have also landed internships in fields they hope to go into.
The days of a “shopping mall high school” serving the children of Lower Township, Cape May and West Cape May are over, said Christopher Kobik, director of curriculum and instruction.
“Lower Cape May has undergone extensive change as staff members have worked to align all course offerings with college, careers and industry standards. The idea is that students are here because they are going somewhere. Counselors work to ensure students have career goals and that course selection decisions are made with that in mind,” Kobik said.
The school’s Academy of Engineering is just one of the changes. There is also a Human Services Academy that features college credit courses for future teachers and a Business Academy to teach business management, administrative assistant and other business functions.
Students can also take courses in law enforcement and public safety and earn credits through Atlantic Cape Community College, become certified as a 911 dispatcher and attend the Cape May County Police Academy. Other academies were set up for culinary arts, mass media communications, and fine and performing arts.
Students learning about child care actually take care of U.S. Coast Guard children at Training Center Cape May.
Kobik said in some cases the courses were already offered but the key was organizing them and adding more offerings to the different academies.
“A lot of electives existed but in isolation. Now they are sequestered and aligned with college and industry. Its career-based learning,” Kobik said.
The changes also extended to the teachers. Frank Toth, who is in his 28th year here, was a shop teacher who went back to college to take engineering courses.
“I fought them tooth and nail. I’m glad I did it now,” Toth said.
Kobik said the curriculum changes allowed the teachers to continue to learn and grow.
“That’s what makes it so special,” Kobik said.
Gina Givens, who teaches principles of engineering, said parents are pushing some students to take the courses but many are picking them on their own and are willing to take on a very difficult subject based mostly on physics and math.
“It’s not easy. If you’re not interested, you’re not going to stick,” Givens said.
Computers have been in the school for years, but students are now learning how to build them and to design websites. Computer teacher Lee Pierce oversees students building computer circuits and experimenting with robotics.
“The kids learn how to take apart, build and troubleshoot computers,” Pierce said.
Some learn about computer programs in the class of Mary Rose Bispels, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. All 40 students in the class last year passed the Microsoft exam, which makes them ready for many jobs.
Senior Matt Farnan, 17, of West Cape May, is learning to design websites.
“I’ve taken all the computer classes. They got me real interested in building websites. I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ll go to college for,” Farnan said.
Kobik said the fundamentals are still stressed, and having that solid base makes learning that much easier with the electives.
“The kids are still expected to read and do math. None of it would work without a rigorous academic program as a foundation” Kobik said.
For some students coming from other areas, the choices have been great.
Alyssa Coleman, 15, a junior from Cape May who moved here from California, said she could not learn how to run a television studio at her old school. The school has such a studio and its own channel. Coleman, who is here every day at 7 a.m. to work in the studio, plans to study communications and television media in college.
“I think it’s great. Coming from California, we didn’t have any electives. We had no sports or music. They cut back everything,” said Coleman.
Kobik isn’t thinking about cutbacks. He’s thinking about adding whatever students need to get ready for the next step in their lives.
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