The Future of Work: A New High School Offers Hands-On Career Exploration

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by Natasha Ashenhurst • Photos by Chris Groen, NTPS Career & Technical Education Department

Imagine a high school where future farmers can take algebra while working in a greenhouse. Where aspiring entrepreneurs can take English literature while writing a business plan. Where future welders can enjoy chemistry while working at a local welding shop. Welcome to Envision Career Academy, a high school where teachers merge traditional academics and
hands-on career exploration.

Currently, Envision has four areas of focus:

  • Business, Marketing and Entrepreneurship
  • Agriculture
  • Manufacturing
  • Bio Medicine

Envision has traditional classrooms along with:

  • A design lab
  • Discussion den
  • Quiet learning nooks
  • An internet café
  • A greenhouse and school gardens

The environment is casual and welcoming. Teachers and staff go by first names. Students are not ‘freshmen’, ‘sophomores’ and so on. They are 9s, 10s, 11s, and 12s.

“Kids can walk in and try different things,” said Brad Hooper, Director of Career and Technical Education at North Thurston Public Schools (NTPS). “They don’t have to worry about schedules and requirements. They can experience the pathways while going to high school. When they take photography, for example, they’ll get a fine arts and photography credit. This frees up their schedule so they can take other courses,” he said.

NTPS reimagined and renamed South Sound High School as Envision Career Academy. The Academy opened during COVID, so it is ramping up this year. There are close to 110 students enrolled. 

“We chose the four areas of emphasis to help meet the ever-changing needs of our region. We focus on welding in our manufacturing program because there is a high need in the region. We’re focusing on sustainable agriculture because this is important to our community. This year, we kicked off the health services and bio-med pathway to meet the community need,” he said.

Once students find a focus area, the school works with businesses in the community to place them. Based on the student’s age, it may be in a job shadow, a mentorship or an internship.

“Envision is a new way of looking at education where, among other elements, student success and community success are deeply connected. That is why we’re looking for more and more community-centric businesses to partner with. Ziegler Welding has been a great partner with our district.Batdorf and Bronson, Foot and Ankle Associates, too,” said Hooper. “As students begin job shadows and internships this year, we want to match their interests with our local businesses to deeply integrate education with the community’s needs. We will be hosting various guest speakers series on Wednesdays and welcome community members and families to join our principal advisory committee. We are not working in a silo—we want partners. We want to become a hub for the community.”

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