At Warren County High School in Warrenton, North Carolina, students aren’t just working on a high school diploma; they’re getting a head start on a future career.

The school’s innovative approach to career and college preparation gives students a clearer view of what lies beyond high school. It is an opportunity to develop key skills like collaboration, creativity and problem solving that will help them be successful in their careers or future studies.

The high school also builds strong community relationships, invests in classroom technology that supports hands-on learning and offers career academies with specialized courses to help students hone in on what they want to do after they graduate.


The three academies are Engineering and Construction Technology, Medical Science and Emergency Services and Business, and Finance and Entrepreneurship. They opened several years ago after the local school district decided it needed to do a better job preparing high school students for life after school.

Warren County is a rural area with a struggling economy and limited job prospects for young people. Many have to leave to find jobs in larger cities, and the career academies are aimed at changing that. The academies focus on career paths that are tied to the local job market and are considered to offer the best chance for students to find work close to home.

“We’re working very hard to try to give them the skills in our schools,” says Ernie Conner, director of Technology and Career and Technical Education at Warren County Schools. “We’ll utilize technology and do whatever it takes so that our students can be successful.”

Instead of taking courses randomly as they did in the past, ninth-grade students now choose an academy and take an organized sequence of courses that gives them hands-on experience to prepare them for a specific career path. They also learn soft skills that they need to be successful in the workplace and beyond.

Ernie says today’s employers are looking for people who know how to do the work but also how to identify problems and work together to solve them. “Business and industry representatives tell us that we need to make sure that our students can work collaboratively, be creative and organized and must have critical thinking skills.”

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