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Career Ready Pathways

Gateway Academy prepares high school students for high-demand jobs

VEX competition Photo: Joe Imel
CPR skills check off. Photo Joe Imel
CPR skills check off. Photo Joe Imel
VEX competition Photo: Joe Imel
VEX competition Photo: Joe Imel
VEX competition Photo: Joe Imel
VEX competition Photo: Joe Imel
Photo: Joe Imel

Industries want to operate in communities with a skilled workforce, and a career and technical academy in Christian County is helping students prepare for high-demand jobs and expanding their future options.

Christian County Schools’ Gateway Academy to Innovation and Technology in Hopkinsville was a traditional vocational school until about six years ago, Principal Penny Knight says, when the school board wanted to revamp it with an eye toward more rigorous and varied programs. 

The academy was the result of those efforts, offering two schools of study for high schoolers in engineering and health science. Students take core subjects like math and English, but also choose career pathways that range from automotive technology and welding to pre-nursing and biomedical science. 

“Most of our instructors are occupation-based, so they came from industry and then earned their teaching certification,” Knight says of teachers for those pathways.

Served by Pennyrile RECC, Gateway has a current enrollment of 567, Knight says. Depending on their focus, students can spend half a day at Gateway and half at their home Christian County high school, or simply travel from their high school to take a class or two at Gateway. Students must apply to attend Gateway Academy and are selected based largely on their field of interest and an application essay. Science grades play a role for health science hopefuls, while math scores are scrutinized in students aiming for engineering, Knight says.

Gateway students can benefit from work co-op experiences, earn industry certifications and rack up college credits. Business and industry representatives often serve as guest speakers, and students take field trips to the GM Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, Hopkinsville’s T.RAD North America Inc. plant and other sites where employees are using the skills that students are learning in their classes.

Christian County Chamber of Commerce Director of Workforce and Education Development Angie Major says work co-op opportunities, industry certifications and industry apprenticeships available to academy students provide authentic learning and work experiences.

“With Gateway providing opportunities for students to participate in those apprenticeships and those co-ops, (students) start working,” Major says, and fill ongoing workforce shortages. “It’s only part time then, but ultimately we’d like for it to lead into full time once they graduate.”

Junior McKay Dunn, 17, has been attending Gateway Academy for three years, after touring its campus in eighth grade. He’s a member of its robotics team and is considering studying electrical engineering after he graduates. Dunn says what he’s found most challenging so far has “probably been programming, and the building side.” 

Gateway Academy students Adrianna Rogers, Rachelle Shepherd, Jakala Young and Issa Williams complete a CPR skills check-off in a health science class. Photo: Joe Imel

More real-world experiences

Knight says the academy’s welding students came up with a creative way to recycle old horseshoes while also helping to fund future program expenses. 

“They get horseshoes and they turn them into art and they sell them at Christmas as a fundraiser for the program,” she says.

Culinary Arts students also are getting experience while generating revenue. They cater meals for 75 to 100 people each Wednesday at a local church, and fulfilled holiday orders for pies, cakes and cheesecakes. For Thanksgiving, they prepared a feast for 230 people.

“They’re getting real-world experience,” says Betty Adams, who teaches 10th through 12th graders. She says proceeds from catering gigs help pay for program expenses like field trips and students’ chef jackets.

Adams says her classes are 60 percent hands-on learning and 40 percent traditional lecture style, with occasional presentations from local chefs. 

With Gateway Academy footing the bill, students can earn a ServSafe Food Handler certification that can help them land jobs in restaurants during high school or after graduation.  

Some students go on to get associate degrees in pastry or culinary arts, Adams says, and there is a demand for jobs such as chef, line cook, nutritionist, caterer and baker. 

“This is an area where when you are in school you can always go and work in the food industry, because everybody eats,” she says.

David Lewis and student Brett Stallons create tools on a milling machine in manufacturing class. Photo: Joe Imel

What’s next

Knight says a new health science building will open next school year and the current Gateway building will house engineering operations. Pathways in Aerospace Engineering, EKG Technology and Phlebotomy also will be added.

She says the academy’s goal continues to be to help students accomplish their next steps, whether it’s entering the workforce, going on to college or pursuing additional training.

“Whatever they choose to do when they leave us, we hope they’ll be well- prepared for that path,” she says.

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