Mayor Marlene Johnson said she is proud of the partnership that will lead to more educational opportunities for area high school students, adult learners, and business and industry that will be centralized in the new Donald E. Nielsen Career and Technical Training Facility, to be constructed just north of the city’s Nielsen Community Center. It will be owned by the City of West Point while Northeast Community College will lease the facility where career and technical education classes will be conducted. Health sciences classes will be held in Northeast’s wing of the nearby Nielsen Community Center.
“This facility will offer training in this region to provide a workforce for business and industry that are looking to fill positions that are open. We have a shortage of available workers and this facility will offer the training needed to fill those positions.”
Johnson was joined at a news conference this week by Joe Peitzmeier, with Educational Service Unit (ESU) #2 and executive director of P2T, a consortium of six area school districts, Dr. Michael Chipps, president of Northeast Community College, and Steven Elliott, vice president of academic affairs at Wayne State College, to discuss the work of the partners over the past several months.
Current members of P2T include Bancroft-Rosalie, Emerson-Hubbard, Howells-Dodge, Lyons-Decatur Northeast, Oakland-Craig, Pender, West Point-Beemer and Wisner-Pilger. Two additional school districts, Emerson-Hubbard and Howells-Dodge, are in the process of joining the consortium.
Peitzmeier said the founding principles of P2T are to provide career and technical education programs to the students in its consortium schools that many smaller rural Nebraska schools may not be able to offer on their own, and the reimagining of a student’s junior and senior year.
“We truly believe our model is innovative and will be a model for small, rural communities, not only in Nebraska, but nationally. This is a model that other people will start to follow,” he said.
Peitzmeier said the first year of the program in 2016-17 included one career pathway in computer science that included 18 students. In the second year in 2017-18, the number increased to 35 students in four pathways (residential construction, health science, education and computer science).
He said there continues to be strong interest in the pathways as there are already 128 students who have pre-registered for next year.
“To me, that shows the viability of a program such as this,” Peitzmeier said. “What we are doing and what you are doing in helping this process is a testament that we can accomplish something greater as a group than we ever could alone.”
Chipps said Northeast knew it wanted to create an environment in West Point that would better recognize career and technical education.
“West Point has always wanted a career and technical presence. You have cottage industries, for instance, that are next to none in a 40-mile radius. It’s amazing to see the types of industry that you have been able to create and be able to support,” he said. “But (Northeast) wanted to be able to support the West Point area and the eight school districts in the 16 communities (in P2T) and Wayne State and bring together something of which students can receive career awareness that they have never experienced before.”
Chipps said Northeast is proud to partner with the City of West Point, P2T and Wayne State College to “give this part of the Northeast service area a comprehensive educational opportunity in one place.”
Northeast also continues to work with area manufacturing companies to schedule time to utilize the new building when high school students are not present. Chipps said now that the partners have reached this point in the process, they will be going out to different manufacturers to alert them that the facility will be built.
Chipps said it is important to remember that even though there will be over 100 students using the facility, Northeast will also be directly involved in educating its traditional-college age students on various days and times. In addition, he said it has to do with Northeast’s Center for Enterprise which will continue to offer all types of training for business and industry to better utilize the facility as well.
“That’s the beauty behind this concept,” he said.
Chipps said the idea of this initiative is to bring all of the partners together and not replicate, but to “use a facility that will have high energy, new high-tech equipment, and faculty….and where it can be used no matter how old you are to learn a new trade or vocation and be able to increase one’s career awareness.”
Elliott said West Point is a prime location and a good place for Wayne State to focus its efforts.
“This has been a great opportunity for all of us to grow in a program that we’re doing. We’re making a lot of changes at Wayne State to better serve the needs of students in this region. This really gives us an opportunity with what we’re doing with our curriculum.”
He said one example of change is through Wayne State’s teacher education pathway.
“By having these conversations and opening up these opportunities with P2T and ESU 2, we have really been able to make major strides and changes that will allow more high school students to take this coursework to pursue the teaching profession.”
One person who is pleased to see the initiative move forward is Mary Lauritzen of West Point.
“It’s a dream come true, said Lauritzen, at-large member of the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education. “We have identified that there are jobs in Nebraska, so let’s train those kids to do the jobs that Nebraska needs. We can identify with that through a program such as P2T. All of these things are cooking and this (initiative) happens now, which is awesome because this can address everything that we are concerned about.”
Lauritzen said there is also a need to help elementary school students identify what they may want to do with their lives and provide them opportunities through career pathways. She said a program like this will provide them the opportunity to learn what it is they like in the area of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“You take a kid who hates to be in school, find the thing they like to do and then suddenly, they’re excited and evolve into a whole (new person). It’s the first time all of these things have been addressed in one place. And the coolest part of all…it’s happening here. This is the model.”
Johnson echoed Lauritzen’s remarks.
“That’s the reason why we’re excited about this – it’s keeping our young people here or to come back here. This will help to fulfill those areas and fulfill those (employment needs.) The City of West Point looks forward to the day we can cut the ribbon and welcome all the students in and watch it grow as the years go by.”
Chipps said the West Point region cares about growing the area, educating students and keeping them here, if possible.
“That is really part of this grand goal to able to create that environment so you can develop and maintain a (skilled) workforce for this area,” he said. “We want to do something for students that will carry for generations to come. We’re trying to do what’s best for students. We are trying to give exposure to students to program opportunities so they can make better choices for their life’s work.”
The partners also announced that a groundbreaking ceremony for the new facility will be held in the near future. Construction will take place this year with an expected opening in early 2019.
Dr. Michael Chipps, president of Northeast Community College, speaks at a news conference this week in West Point to discuss career and technical education opportunities for the region. Behind him are (from left) Joe Peitzmeier with Pathways to Tomorrow (P2T), Steven Elliott of Wayne State College, and Marlene Johnson, mayor of the City of West Point.