The Belton School District has been working for several years to transform the high school experience to focus more on careers and excite students about learning that’s relevant to their life after graduation.
This year’s freshmen, the class of 2023, will be the first to fully participate in the new approach, called the Academies of Belton, where they will pursue their studies through the lens of a potential career field they have chosen — such as engineering, health care, technology or marketing.
“The career or thematic program of study supports an area of personal interest and integrates it with core academic knowledge,” the district said on its website. “The programs offer extensive real-world contact with adults currently working in the field or area of interest, and they enable students to earn dual enrollment and/or … college-level credits while still in high school.”
Now Belton has been designated as the newest Ford Next Generation Learning (Ford NGL) community, a national network supported by the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company. The district created its new model using a blueprint developed by Ford NGL.
“When implemented with fidelity, communities elevate and sustain the benefits of the career academy model which better prepares students for career, college and life,” the district said in a news release.
“Students leave high school equipped to compete and contribute successfully in the 21st century economy.”
A ceremony marking the Ford NGL designation will take place at 4 p.m. Oct. 18 in the performing arts center at Belton High School, 801 W. North Ave. Under the new setup, freshmen at Belton High participate in the Freshman Academy, which focuses on a successful transition to high school and allows students to explore their interests and aptitudes so they can select a career focus for future studies.
“Our freshman class... went through a commitment ceremony a couple of weeks ago — and not a commitment to graduate; that’s a given,” said district spokeswoman Melissa McConnell. “It’s a commitment to their future.”
After students make their selection, that potential career choice will be integrated into their academic studies. Students also will get real-world workplace experience with employers in the area.
”Students will work closely with professionals in their field of interest, adding relevance to their studies and connecting classroom knowledge to success in the workplace,” the district’s news release said.
To be selected for the Ford program, the district said, Belton High School developed a five-year master plan to ensure not only that all high school students are learning in career academies but that a system is in place to engage employers and civic leaders in support of the program.
The district said Ford NGL communities have been shown to produce higher graduation rates, increased academic achievement and industry certifications that students earn in high school.
“This transformation of education in Belton has involved students, staff and our community coming together to design an education that truly prepares our students for their future,” Stacey Yurkovich, the district’s director of academies, said. “The partnerships we have forged will help all students as they ‘navigate new horizons.’ ”