BENTON, TN (WRCB) - Some Polk County High students may be building homes after they get their diploma, while others may be building websites. Either way, principal Jason Bell wants his school to be known as a place that prepares students for the real world.
"When I became principal, we were just trying to get them to earn a diploma and make it to graduation," Bell said. "But I soon realized that just wasn't good enough."
In an effort to beef up Polk County's career and technical training, the growing school now has a website encouraging students to explore their options, and two fulltime counselors. It has already made a difference.
Senior Halee Merrell said, "Every day I'll go into their office and ask if they know of any new scholarships. They're very helpful, we go over them, we fill them out. They really care about me. It's been pretty great."
Micaleah Parker is one of those counselors, focusing on the school's seniors. "I feel like we're making a difference. We never lose sight of the questions, where are they going after high school? And how are they going to get there?"
Senior Dakota Thompson is looking forward to the challenges that await him after he graduates on May 17. He's part of Dewey Esquinance's award-winning web design team, soon headed for national competition. He says people may not expect academic excellence from a rural Tennessee school, but he and his classmates are proof that it's happening.
His thoughts are echoed by senior Rosa Haynes. "I'm proud to attend this school," she said. "Some of us entered ninth grade knowing what we were going to do, but most of us didn't. Thanks to our teachers, and the emphasis they put on career tech, we do now." Classmate Seth Bishop said the career tech classes are challenging. "If students are serious about it, they'll learn from these teachers. We're fortunate to have them in Polk County."
With new nearby industries like Volkswagen and Wacker Chemie offering hundreds of local jobs, Polk County is in good position to place students in high paying jobs, stressing both classroom and hands on skills.
Counselor Rachel Lowe said, "We believe every student leaves here with a plan for the path or career they've worked on for four years."
Principal Bell says he feels the progress is just beginning. The school already offers ten technical areas, and hope to add four more programs of study next year, including architecture, health science, transportation and engineering.