Shale school ready to open its doors at Southern

SALINEVILLE – Prospective students and their parents were able to see what a school day at the Utica Shale Academy (USA) will look like and get an idea of the innovative curriculum it has to offer Thursday night at Southern Local.

Academy Director Eric Sampson led the meeting and presented the audience with a presentation covering everything from classes to his role at the new charter school.

“I will be the person in charge when your kids come to school every day,” Sampson said.

Sampson also introduced other academy officials including Dr. Chuck Kokiko, the chief academic officer, Southern Superintendent John Wilson, one of the developers of the academy and Bill Pitts, president of the academy’s board of education.

The night was billed as an informational meeting, and as such was an opportunity for school officials to address some frequently asked questions and concerns among parents and students.

The academy’s schedule was one detail which frequently drew questions from parents, according to Sampson.

It will be the same as Southern Local’s district calendar, except for the first day of school, which will be Sept. 3 for academy students. Through an a agreement with Southern, the district’s transportation will also be available to academy students, depending on each individual’s class schedule. Sampson noted that even students who reside outside of the district will have the option to ride the bus by being dropped off at a bus stop within the district and picked up from there. USA students will be able to eat at Southern’s cafeteria and take part in some of the district’s electives not offered by the academy, according to Sampson.

Although the USA will be housed inside the Southern Local K-12 campus, Sampson says those who graduate from the academy will be graduates of the Utica Shale Academy and not Southern Local.

“Seniors this year will be the first graduating class of the academy,” he said.

Sampson also took time to explain the curriculum and describe the learning experience at USA. He called the academy a “non-traditional” and “blended” learning environment.

“I’m sure you’re aware of the online schools that are around – we are sort of that but not,” he said.

Despite the non-traditional learning experience, USA’s students will still spend the majority of their time in a classroom, said Sampson. However, students can accumulate some credit hours outside the classroom by working online on their own time. In or outside of the classroom, students will have access to interactive computer programs developed to walk them through the inner workings of a gas and oil well, said Sampson.

Sampson emphasized that while students may spend the majority of their time in the classroom, the lessons presented in that time will be engaging, hands-on and relevant to the oil and gas industry. The academy has partnered with PetroEd, a oil and gas industry training firm, to develop curriculum that will allow students to transition from the academy straight to the job market.

“All the courses that they will be taking in the gas and oil curriculum will transfer over in to certifications which can get you a job on a oil rig or in the gas and oil industry,” Sampson said.

One such certification is called RigPass. It will allow academy students to acquire certain safety and technical knowledge before getting on a well site. Sampson argued that having these certifications will give academy students an edge in the job market.

Should USA students want to pursue a higher education in the gas and oil field, the academy has articulation agreements with Stark State College and Eastern Gateway Community College, said Sampson. He noted the academy has multiple dual-credit classes aimed at getting students a head start on their college career if they so choose.

The academy is geared toward preparing students for the gas and oil industry, however, students will still be required to meet state standards for core course requirements.

These courses will be offered through the Jefferson County Educational Service Center’s virtual learning academy. The virtual learning academy offers over 100 courses, some of which are not available in smaller school districts, said Sampson. Kokiko explained that with the virtual learning academy, students can learn at their own pace, unlike traditional classroom environments.

“The beauty of this program is that it can be customized for every single student in this room,” said Kokiko.

Those not interested in the gas and oil curriculum can still attend the academy and use the virtual learning academy to earn the credits they need to graduate.

“A student comes to us, they do their virtual learning academy lessons while they’re here at school, they don’t do all the oil and gas stuff, they get their credit all out of the way and they can still graduate from Utica Shale Academy,” said Sampson.

Sampson cited the climbing age of current gas and oil industry workers and the long term forecast for the gas and oil boom in Ohio as reasons students should consider the academy.

“There are currently about 180,000 jobs in the state of Ohio in the gas and oil industry and by 2015 we’re going to be looking at over 200,000,” said Sampson. “We’re providing you with the opportunity to get the certifications you need to get yourself into those positions.”