Newton High School Principal Bill Peters was once a student where he now works, but the school is much different in 2016 than it was when he graduated in 1983.
“The biggest change is more opportunities for kids,” Peters said. “In the last 10 years, the opportunities for kids have just exploded.”
Students today have much greater access to tools that prepare them for college and/or careers. Peters said NHS, and schools across Iowa, want kids to be ready for life after graduation.
Having access to the Newton DMACC campus has helped in “unbelievable ways.” High school instructors who are approved by DMACC can provide courses for both college and high school credit at the same time.
“We have probably 60 credits available on campus for kids to get college credit, and it’s completely free,” Peters said.
DMACC’s Career Academy is also a valuable resource for NHS students. The college’s budget allows for specialized training that isn’t feasible at the high school. Criminal forensics students, for example, can pick the brains of people from the FBI. Carpentry students can gain experience building a real house. Nursing students have access to advanced medical technology. DMACC can afford to provide supplemental resources that simply don’t fit within a high school’s budget.
All high school students in Jasper County have access to the academy, but the bulk of the program is students from NHS because of its proximity.
“We have 80-100 kids every year who go to the academy,” Peters said. “We’re pretty fortunate having that DMACC campus here. It helps immensely.”
The students involved at the academy spend either the beginning or the end of their school day at DMACC. The program has expanded in recent years, and some students are taking advantage of it.
“Last year we had three kids who graduated from high school with their associate’s (degree) at the same time,” Peters said. “So they were ready to cruise and already had two years of school paid for.”
NHS is also connecting with local manufacturers. It will begin the Next Step program next year. As part of Next Step, manufacturers from the area will visit the school and talk with students about their respective industries.
All industry aspects will be covered, including necessary skills and career options. Whether a student wants to be an accountant or a factory floor worker, it will be included in the Next Step program. Each company will spend a week at the high school.
“At the end of that week, those kids will get to tour that facility,” Peters said. “Then we’ll bring in another industry. It should be a great opportunity for our kids.”
Next Step is important, Peters said, because many students are not aware of the opportunities that await them after high school.
“It’s a big deal. I’m excited,” Peters said. “Some of our kids are ready to just go to work. They don’t want college. They don’t want that debt. They’re ready to work, so we have to make sure they know what’s out there.”
NHS developed a sound curriculum by adapting to new technologies and being open to change. Every student is issued an iPad. Many teachers interact with students through Schoology, a learning management system used to submit assignments online.
“We’ve got to be willing to change,” Peters said. “I don’t see that as an obstacle because we’ve got a great staff, but it is always a challenge.”
Peters said a good school will provide opportunities, but a great school will care about the student in every possible way. He said a great school will make students feel comfortable and safe and make sure the students know they’re in a place where people care about them.
“I think that’s the difference – having a staff that cares,” he said. “We’re small enough that we can do that because we’re only about 830 kids, so we know most of the kids well and know their families. I might not know every single name, but I know every face in this school. That makes a big difference.”
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