Interest in the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy is building as its third class of students looks toward graduation with an expectation of earning 30 percent more than the traditional high school graduate, Waco Independent School District officials said.
GWAMA is one of two specialized schools in Waco that train regional high school students for career certifications. GWAMA provides classes in robotics, welding and mechanics. Its first class graduated in June 2014.
The Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy began at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year and trains students to be certified nurse assistants.
Although data still are being gathered, most of GWAMA’s 90 graduates transitioned to Texas State Technical College or another technical school, GWAMA Assistant Director Dustin Davisson said. Students who went straight into careers began at about $12 an hour, Davisson said.
“We don’t try to pigeonhole any of our kids into one way. We say they can go straight to work. They can go finish their (degree) at TSTC or they can continue on in something else,” he said.
Word of students’ success is spreading.
Greater Waco Academies Director Brandon Cope said interest for the 2016-17 school year has already reached current enrollment numbers of 180 students and he thinks the school will easily meet its needed 300 students to ensure sustainability by next fall.
Davisson said the school won’t know official enrollment numbers until April or May because surrounding districts haven’t set next year’s schedules yet, and the half-day program must fit a student’s schedule to be eligible.
The school is in the third and final year of a $6 million U.S. Department of Education grant that pays for the classes.
Cope came on board in January 2015 from Crestview Elementary School with the goal of increasing the students’ “soft skills,” such as job interview techniques, résumé writing and customer service.
Waco ISD Superintendent Bonny Cain said the academy has come up with unique ways to emphasize the importance of soft skills through increasing the presence of business owners on campus.
The school holds mock interviews and job fairs for the students, and on their name tags they must write the number of times they were tardy or absent, Cain said. The move is designed to increase attendance, as businesses can see the number of absences or days tardy.
“Our business partners have been invaluable,” she said.
GWAMA administrators have continued to expand what the school offers in an effort to give students a better chance at getting a job. Students also now graduate with a forklift certification and training in basic life support and are CPR certified. They also receive training in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and become “OSHA 10” certified.
Staff also decided to expand the age requirements. In previous years, only juniors and seniors were eligible, but next year sophomores are eligible to enroll in GWAMA.
Davisson said the additional students won’t stress the campus, but will give those students an edge in the job hunt.
“We feel we will produce an even better product,” Davisson said. “The sooner we can get them, the better-experienced worker we can produce.”