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A new push from a local career center aims to get high school freshmen with plans to study engineering or computer programing in college to consider their classes, too.

For more than a decade students and parents have viewed the Central Nine Career Center as a school for students interested in starting their careers immediately after high school. Central Nine offers courses and certifications for careers that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, such as mechanics and firefighters; but officials want college-bound students to know they can take courses there, too.

Fewer students have been attending Central Nine over the past four years — 1,135 students attend the center now, down from 1,356 during the 2010-11 school year, a 16 percent drop, according to curriculum director Nicole Otte.

Now Central Nine officials want all students, including those with college plans, to consider taking career center courses. To make that happen they’ll need to show all students the kinds of programs available.

If more students attend Central Nine, then they’ll have more hands-on experience they can use to market themselves after high school, during college or after graduation. The career center also would receive more funding, Otte said.

The career center bills school district based on the number of students each has enrolled in the center’s courses. The school districts, which receive state money based on enrollment, receive additional funding for students attending the career center, Otte said.

Students planning to study engineering or computer programming in college, for example, can take Central Nine courses in both subjects. They can use that experience to start earning certifications to market themselves when they apply for internships and jobs. She said students also could realize they don’t want a career in that field, and they can focus earlier on finding the right profession.

“Regardless of what (their) career is, we want to provide a path for that,” Otte said.

Local high schools have started requiring freshmen and sophomores to take a course about college and career planning. The earlier students start thinking about what they might want to do for a living the earlier they can find career center courses or programs that could benefit them.

If students know from the start of their freshman year that they want to be teachers, then Central Nine probably doesn’t have a program for them, and they can focus on taking more college-level and Advanced Placement courses, Otte said. But students who plan to study nursing can get experience through the health care courses at Central Nine, she said.

Often college-bound students focus on taking Advanced Placement courses, typically starting in the junior year, which is also when most students start attending Central Nine.

Many students don’t believe they can afford to choose the career center over a college-level course, but they can explore their options at their high school and at Central Nine. They may be able to take a mix of college-level and career center courses.

Even if a student spends one year at Central Nine, Otte said, that will give them a head start over other students who haven’t had any hands-on experience, especially in health care, manufacturing and information technology.

“If we can get a kid for one year, instead of two years, that’s a great opportunity as well,” Otte said.

At Franklin, incoming eighth-graders can meet with Central Nine teachers and employees to learn about career center programs and courses they can take while in high school. Principal Doug Harter also wants the career center to work more closely with teachers and counselors, creating specific course plans students can follow if they’re interested in a particular profession.

If students want to study nursing, as early as the freshman year they can know the courses they need to take at the high school and what programs at the career center give them the best chance at getting into a college and getting the job they want.

Earlier this school year, career center officials started meeting with businesses and companies in manufacturing, information technology and health care about job shadowing, internship and job opportunities for students. Otte said the hope is that within the next year Central Nine can start showing students specifically how their courses can help them get jobs without leaving Johnson County.

“If the students plan early enough in their schedule, and they work it, they can make it happen,” Otte said.

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