Harnett County Schools Advanced Manufacturing, Health Sciences academies grow despite hurricane, pandemic

Job shadowing, internships, co-ops, and apprenticeships along with related classroom instruction allow program participants to earn degrees, diplomas, and certificates while they learn a highly skilled trade. Employers gain a pipeline of loyal skilled workers, increase productivity, and improve the bottom line.

Harnett County Schools, in partnership with Central Carolina Community College, is the home of an Advanced Manufacturing Academy and a Health Sciences Academy. In April 2018, the Golden LEAF Board awarded $400,000 to Harnett County Schools to support the two academies through renovating and expanding classrooms as well as adding equipment and resources to support career awareness and help train a future workforce.

“Triton High School, where the welding shop was being expanded, was damaged by a hurricane and construction was delayed significantly,” said Justin Wilkinson, Director of Career and Technical Education, Harnett County Schools. 

Construction was complete in late December 2019, just months before COVID-19. 

“Due to COVID-19, Harnett County Schools ended face-to-face instruction mid-March 2020,” said Wilkinson. “Without students to utilize the equipment and instructional resources or teachers in the building, we held off on making purchases until students and teachers returned.”

Face-to-face instruction resumed September 28, 2020 for Harnett County Schools. 

“We are finally in the process of finalizing purchases and getting new equipment and technology in the hands of our students,” said Wilkinson. “Our main lessons from these experiences have been flexibility and perseverance. From a leadership standpoint, realizing that we cannot control the weather or a pandemic, but are in control of how we react and the plans we put in place to serve our students once they return.” 

Wilkinson gives credit to the dedicated instructors in the classroom and the guidance and support of the district leadership. The project is a result of a strategic partnership between the schools, community college, industry, and funders.

“The academies were established in response to local industry workforce development needs,” said Wilkinson. “Golden LEAF funding greatly increased the number of students we were able to serve and significantly decreased our timeline on improvements. Through regular Career Technical Education funding, we could have made some of the improvements, but never to this scale and this quickly.”

To date, 293 students have participated in work-based learning experiences, 347 students have earned a third-party credentials, and 2,130 students have completed and earned course credits in Ag Mechanics I & II, Advanced Welding, Metals Manufacturing I & II, Health Team Relations, Health Sciences I & II, or Pharmacy Technician courses.

“Our improvements have led to the creation of a pipeline from our CTE programs to these program areas at the community college level,” said Wilkinson. “Students have authentic high school experiences that can directly relate to programs at our partner community college. Instructors from the community college are able to target their recruiting efforts across our high schools to these specific program areas to find qualified and motivated students.”

These academies already have graduates employed in their field of study.

“There are approximately 30 students employed in the Health Sciences, Manufacturing, Welding, and/or Fabrication fields who came through the Agricultural Mechanics, Metals Manufacturing, and Health Sciences courses in Harnett County Schools from the class of 2019,” said Lindsey Spivey Hardee, School-to-Career Coordinator at Harnett County Schools.

“As a growing rural county school system, the Golden LEAF Foundation has afforded us the ability to offer career altering instruction to Harnett County Students at a level not possible under current funding restraints,” said Wilkinson.

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