Wall to Wall: Plattsmouth's expansive career academy covers it all

Wall to Wall: Plattsmouth's expansive career academy covers it all


The desks were arranged in a rectangle, lining the walls of a Plattsmouth High School classroom that would soon be filled with discussion and collaboration, the makings of an emerging alliance between a school and its community.

Student representatives of Plattsmouth’s Wall to Wall Career Academy held a prominent spot at the meeting. As Advisory Council Leaders (ACL), their input is a pivotal piece to a conversation that, for a long time, didn’t take place in Plattsmouth.

“Teaching here for so many years, I never had any input from the community, and never met with them,” said Dan Oatman. “It was never anything that even came close to my plate.”

This is the new Plattsmouth Community Schools.

Emphasis on the word “community”.

“Now, you’re constantly taking those things into account,” Oatman continued. “You’re reaching out (to the community). It is one of those things that has taken us out of our traditional teacher comfort zones.”

There was a decision to be made when Plattsmouth committed to inheriting the career academy approach a few years ago.

“Our choice was between ‘wall to wall’ or pocket academies,” said David Davis. “We wanted every kid to be able to benefit from this, not just a select few.”

And so, with the adamant insistence of high school principal Jeff Wiles, the plan was put in place to adopt an extended and all-inclusive career academy program, a forward-thinking decision from a now forward-thinking district.

Plattsmouth’s career academy model includes three different academies. Business, Marketing and Management Education (BEACH) is headed by Steve Owen. Science, Technology, Engineering, Aeronautics and Mathematics (STEAM) is directed by Oatman. Architecture/Construction, Transportation/Logistics, Environmental/Agriculture Systems, Art and Manufacturing (A-TEAM) is led by Davis.

As you can see, students aren’t shorted opportunities.

“We have identified some careers that are already existing,” said Davis. “By being so broad, we need to make sure that we are trying to prepare our students for jobs that don’t even exist yet, too.”

Through Nebraska Career Connections, students are evaluated and lined up with an academy based on the inventory taken considering their skills, strengths, interests, etc. There have been discussions of moving the evaluation process to the middle school, so that incoming freshman know which academy they’ll be a part of before their first day of school.

You wouldn’t think Plattsmouth, Nebraska would share too much in common with Mountain Home, Arkansas, but, believe it or not, they do. Or, at least, they will. The model for Plattsmouth’s career academy program, Mountain Home is a town of about 12,000 nestled in the Ozark Mountains.

“When we first started, it was kind of the school and the community,” Davis said. “In Mountain Home, you really can’t figure out where one ends and the other begins because they are so intertwined with each other. That’s where we’d like to get eventually. We are in the starting process.”

Plattsmouth teachers have been doing externships with community businesses. Each academy visited two businesses this school year. Several business leaders attend the Advisory Committee meetings as mentors. The evolution of those relationships has been encouraging for academy leaders.

“It has been fun to communicate with them and build those connections,” Owens said. “I think their eyes have been opened to what is going on here.”

For Owens, Davis and Oatman, the last two years have been just as much a learning experience for them as it has their students.

“The learning curve is high for me,” Davis said. “Every time we go to a conference, every time I talk to someone from a different place that is involved in career academies, I am able to pick up something else or learn something else to bring back to Plattsmouth.”

For students like sophomore A-TEAM member Caleb Davis, career paths are already being paved. His school is proactively preparing him for life after Plattsmouth two years before his graduation day.

“I know I want to go into engineering, and being in A-TEAM definitely helped me figure that out,” Caleb said. “I had vague ideas, maybe a lawyer or maybe a doctor, but really no clue whatsoever of what I wanted to be. A-TEAM really helped me figure out where I want to go and what I want to do.”

Senior Katie Oatman knew there were going to be changes going on in her school, and she knew she wanted to be involved in the decision making behind those changes. Students actually set the agenda for committee meetings, so ACL gave her the chance to do just that. Like Davis, her academy aligned her ambitions with her future.

“I am going to be a physical therapist, so STEAM, with the science and math, has really helped with that,” said the Southwest Minnesota State soccer signee. “They are adding more classes, too. This year I took a sports medicine class that wasn’t offered in the past, and now, because of the classes I'm taking, I can almost name all the bones and muscles in your body. It’s exciting to see.”

Tim Schreiber was heading into his junior year when one of his teachers suggested he join the ACL, and, looking for a fresh and new opportunity, he agreed.

“Since then, we’ve made a ton of progress, and it’s been cool to see,” Schreiber, now a senior nearing graduation, said.

Schreiber is headed to the University of Kansas next fall. After college, he plans to work in the church as an organist, something he’s been learning through private lessons up until this point, but feels the career academy model has still given him an idea of what life will be like after high school.

“From the aspect of the learning styles we talk about, being in the career academy helped get me out of classes that would bore me out of my mind and doing things I’m not interested in in ways I’m not interested in doing them,” Schreiber said.

In other words, being in BEACH alleviated some of the symptoms of “Senioritis” for Schreiber. It steered him away from complacency during his final high school months, though complacency isn’t an impending possibility for the trio of academy leaders who eagerly look forward to a future filled with possibilities.

“It’s very exciting, but at some point in time, we are going to have to limit our number of choices,” Davis said. “We keep adding programs, but at some point we are going to have to figure out where we want to draw the line. We’re excited to see where this goes.”

It’s a predicament, but a positive one to be in.

“It is definitely a good problem to have,” said Oatman. “We have had so much that has come online that now we have to consider ‘Okay, what is our next step going to be?’”

Whichever direction that next step takes Plattsmouth Community Schools’ Wall to Wall Career Academies, they won’t be taking it alone.

Emphasis on the word “community”.