This $3.1 million academy will provide ChattCo students free college classes before graduation

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Aaron Henderson, a Columbus Technical College student apprenticing at Oneda, talks about his experiences. Heather Hollstein, a coordinator at Oneda, talks about how the apprenticeships work for trainers and trainees.
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Aaron Henderson, a Columbus Technical College student apprenticing at Oneda, talks about his experiences. Heather Hollstein, a coordinator at Oneda, talks about how the apprenticeships work for trainers and trainees.

Chattahoochee County Middle and High School students will have more opportunities to get a head start on their career path, thanks to Tuesday’s opening of a new facility on their campus.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated four years of planning and construction that resulted in the 25,000-square-foot addition, fueled by a $3.1 million state grant to establish the Chattahoochee Valley Academy.

It’s one of 47 Georgia College & Career Academies established in the state during the past 13 years.

These academies are specialized charter schools that partner with colleges and businesses to improve workforce development. The free college-level courses allow students to graduate from high school with an associate’s degree or industry certification — and without debt.

ChattCo superintendent Kristie Brooks said CVA is what’s called a “wall-to-wall academy,” meaning it will serve all of the school’s more than 650 students in grades 9-12, plus introductory courses for grades 6-8. Less than one-fifth of the state’s academies are wall-to-wall, she said.

CVA’s facility comprises:

Automotive technology classroom and lab.

Eight welding bays.

Medical training clinic.

Studio for audio and visual productions.

Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps training area and rifle range.

Model early childhood classroom to train aspiring teachers.

Columbus Technical College instructors teach those vocational courses, funded by the annual federal grant of approximately $65,000 ChattCo receives for Career, Technical and Agricultural Education, Brooks said.

CVA’s partnership with CTC, funded through the state’s dual-enrollment program, provides at the high school college-level core courses for students to earn credit toward an associate’s degree. More than 300 ChattCo students earned college credit last school year, Brooks said, when the academy started before the facility was finished.

The courses were selected based on advice from business leaders in the region, Brooks said, so what CVA teaches the students has a better chance of helping local companies hire qualified workers. CVA’s business partners are the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, Columbus 2025, Pratt & Whitney, Sumter EMC, Care Connect, Goodwill of Georgia and TIYA Support Services.

“The CVA academies offer something for everyone, for those desiring admittance to a Tier 1 university like UGA or those who want to transition into the workforce as a leader in their industry,” Brooks told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email. “The goal of CVA is to prepare our students to be the talented, educated people needed for regional economic development.”

SRJ Architects of Albany designed the facility, and Parrish Construction of Perry was the general contractor. Brooks praised their work, which “maximized earned state funds so the system did not incur any additional building costs. By re-allocating staff, the system has been able to provide additional administrative and maintenance support so that no additional local funds were added for operations.”

The Muscogee County School District also will have a College & Career Academy, scheduled to open when this school year starts Aug. 8 at Jordan Vocational High School.

The Harris County School District’s plan for a College & Career Academy is on hold.

”While the College and Career Academy was a priority of the previous five-year facility plan, the current Board of Education and administration revisited the plan and, due to the state of the Harris County Carver Middle School, reset the priorities giving the construction of a new middle school precedence,” HCSD spokeswoman Rachel Crumbley told the L-E via email Tuesday.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story reported Columbus State University provides the college-level core courses to earn credit for an associate’s degree to students at Chattahoochee Valley Academy. Columbus Technical College is the institution that provides those courses. The story has been updated to correct the information.

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Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.