Engineering students John Rylee Barrett, Josh Hendrix, Stephen Lombard and Zack Griffin demonstrate a robot for instructor Sedera Anderson.
Engineering students John Rylee Barrett, Josh Hendrix, Stephen Lombard and Zack Griffin demonstrate a robot for instructor Sedera Anderson.
After two years of engineering classes, Neshoba Central senior Stephen Lombard knows exactly what he is going to do following graduation. He, like most of the students in his Engineering II class, plans to study engineering in college.

Lombard hopes to enroll in the University of Mississippi’s School of Engineering and major in computer science. He aspires to work for a large company such as NASA or Tesla.

“Tesla manufactures electrical vehicles,” he said, as he worked with hydraulics in his classroom. “The vehicles basically drive themselves.”

Lombard is fascinated by the vehicles and how they operate.

The engineering and robotics classes at Neshoba Central High School have been so successful that the school district will take the next step during the 2019-2020 school year and add other classes to ensure that students are prepared and properly equipped to thrive in a global economy.

After visits to Gulfport High School and District 214 in Arlington Heights, Ill., school administrators made the decision to add two “Career Academies,” a mixture of intensive academic curriculum and career-focused, project-based learning to help students navigate their way to greater success after graduation, whether in higher education or in the workforce.

The academies will be in Health Sciences and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

In 2010, Gulfport High School began the transformation to be the first public school in Mississippi to realign its educational structure to offer similar academies.

Neshoba Central High School Principal Jason Gentry said he was very impressed by what he saw at the two school districts.

“Career academies put all kids on some path to be successful,” he said. “We were very excited with what we saw.”

One school had a culinary arts academy, he said.

Consultants were called in to assist administrators to design Neshoba’s academies. They also met with business, industrial and hospital officials. 

Neshoba’s academies will provide students starting in the ninth grade with career-focused courses as well as workplace learning internships their senior year.

Students like Lombard will chose an area of interest and then follow a pathway which includes tailored classes. Students will eventually begin to learn about potential careers in elementary and middle school so that they are ready to choose a pathway by the time they reach high school.

They won’t, however, be locked in to a pathway, Gentry said.

Neshoba Central will expand its Health Science curriculum, which is taught at the career technology center starting in August.  

Digital Media I is currently being taught and next year Digital Media II will begin. Engineering Fundamentals will be offered for freshmen among other classes.

Gentry is excited about all the new classes. With the new football stadium, he said digital media students might film free commercials for those businesses that sponsor the score board. 

“It’ll be really hands-on,” he said. “There’s a lot of untapped potential there.”

When students enter middle school, Gentry wants them to get excited about a pathway to get them started and after graduation carry that experience to the next level whether to college or directly in the workforce.

“This is really a lot of little schools within the school,” he said, noting that the goal was to get every student in high school on a pathway.

Assistant high school principal Dana McLain shares Gentry’s excitement.

We want to provide the students with as many opportunities as possible, she said.

Instruction will be adapted to the pathways, she said, noting that students will be grouped together on those pathways.
“We want to take it to the next level so our students will be competitive and will have a heads-up on other students they will be competing with,” McLain said.

Gentry said the district hopes to add other academies in the future which could include forestry, horticulture and culinary arts, among others.

Superintendent of Education Lundy Brantley has been very supportive of the academies, Gentry said. 

“We have a great leader, an innovative leader, and we really believe that not just Neshoba Central will benefit but the community as a whole will benefit from these academies. 

“We want our kids to stay in our community, grow and flourish whether they go to college or straight into the workforce,” Gentry said. 

 Brantley said the school district is always searching for ways to expand opportunities for students.
“Our vision is to graduate all students college and career ready with certifications, courses, and external opportunities beyond a high school diploma. The academy concept is another tool for our students to be successful in life,” he said.