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SIOUX CITY | One period per day, Triet Nguyen, a junior at West High School, and Amanda Debates, a sophomore at East High School, become classmates with others from the two schools and North High School for an engineering course in a downtown Sioux City building.

Both Nguyen and Debates said they like having the ability to learn about engineering in a Career Academy course that isn't otherwise available in the three Sioux City School District high schools. They both said it is good to get a taste of possible specialty college majors and professions before heading to a university.

"It gives you more options. It gives students who are interested to have a taste in high school," Nguyen said.

"It is good, because some people aren't interested in basic careers," said Debates, who has taken Career Academy courses for both years of high school.

As the Career Academy initiative continues to expand, there will not only be a new wing for the classes but also first-time courses added for the 2018-19 academic year, starting this fall.

The district's growing Career Academy allows students to take specialty courses in 30 so-called pathways, covering business and marketing, family and consumer science, health science and industrial technology.

Most Sioux City Career Academy courses follow a sequence, offer college credit, and in many cases offer a level of certification toward the workforce or further post-secondary study.

Director of Secondary Education Jim Vanderloo said 15 new courses will be offered in the fall semester. The school district has announced an expansion of pathways each December since 2011, and now there are roughly 150 courses within the 30 pathways.

Among the new career pathways are a cybersecurity course in computer science, virtual reality within manufacturing, early childhood curriculum, and a series of education courses that include coaching ethics and theory, athletic injury prevention and athletic development & human growth.

"It has become really robust in the last few years," Superintendent Paul Gausman said.

Vanderloo and Gausman said the pathways aren't added unless there are legitimate reasons, and often that comes from the business community asking if some new strand could be added so students better understand a certain field.

"We want to be nimble. We want to serve the businesses in our community, we want to serve our students," Gausman said.

Additionally, district officials are moving toward the goal of centralizing the locations where students complete upper level Career Academy coursework. The goal is to eventually only use the high schools to administer the introductory Career Academy courses.

The Sioux City School Board and Sioux City Council in late 2017 approved a sharing agreement that will allow the district to re-purpose unused portions of the downtown public museum for a broader Career Pathways Campus. That expanded campus is being connected to the Education Service Center, where school district administrators work.

The school district in mid-July approved a purchase agreement with Museum Building Property Inc. to pay $1.5 million for 75,000 square feet of the building at 607 Fourth St.

The district's plans include constructing new Career Pathways Campus rooms in a second-floor portion of the museum building, which at one time housed a Delta Air Lines call center before it closed in 2012.

The move is seen by the district as a more centralized and efficient way to offer Life Academy and Career Academy courses, which have previously been spread through all three high schools, as well as Western Iowa Tech Community College, the Harry Hopkins Campus on Lewis Boulevard and the downtown Ho-Chunk Centre.

The classrooms will be converted by the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, Vanderloo said. The work will likely begin in early March.

The budget has been estimated at $1.8 million. The renovation plans will get an airing briefly during the Sioux City School Board meeting Monday, when a future public hearing date for those plans will be set.

The classrooms will run from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet, and be modern in layout and function, Vanderloo said.

With the new rooms, from 300 to 500 more students will be coming to the Career Pathways Campus. That adds to the 700 now taking academy courses, some of which have those classes making up half their days, Gausman said.

The long-term goal is to use just the Harry Hopkins Campus for a portion of the Career Academy courses while also offering Career Academy and Life Academy courses in the expanded downtown Career Pathways Campus at the museum as it connects to the Education Service Center.

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County and education reporter

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