SEDRO-WOOLLEY — Cascades College and Career Academy was unveiled Wednesday morning as about 100 people gathered for an invite-only look at a new Job Corps program.

Guests heard speeches from U.S. Department of Labor officials, including Deputy Secretary of Labor Christopher Lu and National Director of Job Corps Lenita Jacobs-Simmons.

Academy staff then directed tours through various buildings, highlighting improvements and job training goals.

The former Cascades Job Corps site has been unused since December while it transitions to a pilot program that will focus on training disenfranchised youths ages 16 to 21 for health care and information technology jobs.

The site used to offer high school diploma and GED programs, and training for trades such as carpentry, masonry and food service.

The shift to health care and IT is an evolution for Job Corps, Lu said.

“(Job Corps) is a fantastic 50-year-old program that has trained thousands of young people, but as we move into the next 50 years, it’s important to not only understand how we train people but what we are training them for,” he said. “This is the reinvention of Job Corps and really epitomizes what we want to accomplish in the next 50 years.”

The training programs at the academy will differ in several ways from those at other Job Corps sites, Lu said.

For instance, it will guide students toward acquiring health care and IT certifications, earning college credits and preparing them for four-year schools.

Outside classroom hours, students will learn leadership, teamwork and problem-solving skills.

“We are going to maximize their learning while they are here,” Lu said.

Admissions will be different, too, said academy Admissions and Placement Manager Tricia Burtt.

Students must score at least an eighth-grade level for math and reading. They must also enroll for three years, whereas other Job Corps sites have students enroll for about a year.

Students who enroll will be placed in groups of 15 to 25 and stick with that group throughout their three years.

“That’ll allow for continuity and greater camaraderie among the students,” Lu said.

Work is still underway on dorms and other facilities, and the academy won’t enroll students until renovations are complete, Burtt said. Students from within Washington will receive priority during the application process, she said.

The academy will continue to focus on enrolling students who are not enrolled in school, are not working and are from low-income families, Lu said.

The academy will also have several local partners, including Skagit Valley College, the Northwest Career and Technical Academy and Sedro-Woolley High School.

During the campus tour, academy staff previewed new teaching techniques.

For instance, computers in IT classrooms will be placed on round tables where several students will sit. The goal with this teaching style is to keep the students’ focus on the day’s lesson.

— Reporter Aaron Weinberg: 360-416-2145, aweinberg@skagitpublishing.com, Facebook.com/byaaronweinberg

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