New academy introduces young students in rural areas to different career paths

Updated: May. 22, 2021 at 10:05 PM EDT
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WALLACE, N.C. (WECT) - The Mt. Calvary Center’s newest program, the Vocational, Industrial, and College (VIC) Preparatory Academy, is all about producing the leaders of the future.

The VIC Academy kicked off it’s first 12-week session on Saturday. It introduces students to different career paths, and its specifically meant for kids in rural parts of Pender, New Hanover, Duplin and Bladen Counties, with a focus on low-income, marginalized, and minority youth.

“Rural communities need programs like this,” said Lisa Robinson, the executive director of Mt. Calvary Center. “We need something that speaks to the needs of introducing our children to more about technology and industrial, vocational, college prep careers.”

Robinson is originally from the area, but realized the need for a program like this after moving back from Maryland.

“When I moved back here it was just so limited as to what they have to do outside of school,” Robinson said. “They [Robinson’s kids] didn’t want to ride to Wilmington for everything. New Hanover County has plenty of resources for their children. They have all kinds of afterschool programs there but here in the rural areas we do not have that and our children are just as important as children in other places too and they need to be exposed to different things that will spark their interests.”

The students will explore different occupations, industrial trades and college preparatory skills through hands-on learning and field trips.

“We’re excited about the vocational careers, the industrial careers, but at the same time we want to also let them know that there is the opportunity to go to a four-year university at the same time.”

The academy will also teach students about entrepreneurship.

“Maybe we have a component about welding. Not only can you go and get a certificate in welding but you can start you own business,” Robinson said. “We want to get them interested in how to start your own business... just simple little business plans at a young age. We want them to just be excited about the possibilities and opportunities that lie within them.”

And there is no shortage of career goals in the current group of students.

“We came here to learn about different career jobs, like I want to be a gourmet chef,” one student said.

Another student added that they want to be a rocket engineer and that they came to the VIC Academy to learn more about mechanical engineering.

“I want to be a doctor so I just want to learn about all the different jobs there are to offer,” said another student that is excited about the academy.

Another added that she wants to be a cardiologist when she grows up.

The academy will meet every other Saturday for 12 weeks. The first day was all about design and coding.

“Today we’re looking at game design and games as a model for learning and we’re also looking at games as a way of just developing them as leaders,” said Lucas Gillispie, director of digital learning for Surry County Schools.

As for thoughts on the program so far — the students had nothing but positive things to say. One student said it was better than school while another described it in one word: extraordinary.

There is a huge demand for a program like this in what are typically underserved communities. Robinson said the spots for the current session filled up quick

“When we put the application out, the response was overwhelming and then you have to make that hard decision like who gets in and who goes on the waiting list and how soon can we start the next program, so that’s why funding is so important.”

The program is free for the participants and is funded by outside sources and private donors. The academy needs more funding to get more kids in the door.

There is currently a waitlist for future 12-week sessions. The VIC academy is meant for students in 5th and 6th grades.

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