Waco Independent School District officials are pushing for an almost $1 million expansion of the Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy to help meet dual credit requirements and to offer more dual credit programs by next summer.

GWAHCA’s science labs are insufficient for some of the district’s dual credit courses offered under a partnership with McLennan Community College, but remodeling a gym at the GWAHCA campus now used as storage space would change that, area superintendent Rick Hartley said.

Hartley is overseeing a proposal to convert the gym into two modern science labs, one at a cost of $678,380 and the other at a cost of $278,000, according to district documents. If the school board approves the work in May, the labs could be up and running by February or March, school officials said.

The health care academy is at the former Viking Hills Elementary School campus in West Waco.

“When we put GWAHCA in, the idea was to build a CNA (certified nursing assistant) program for students — not just ours but in other districts,” Hartley said. “Over time, we’ve seen new opportunities we’d like to provide for our students. . . . But the lab structure, the physical labs (in place now), won’t meet the requirements for these dual credit classes.”

Too much traveling

The district could send students to MCC labs, but the logistics would be complicated and take up too much of the students’ day, he said.

Without the two science labs, students enrolled in GWAHCA dual credit courses would travel from their designated school to GWAHCA, then to MCC for the dual credit course, back to GWAHCA and then to their home campus again, Hartley said. If they ride the bus to school in the morning and catch a bus ride home, that would be six bus rides in a day, Hartley said.

GWAHCA serves Waco High School, University High School and 11 other school districts within the area, Greater Waco Academies director Dale McCall said.

Based on projections from the number of students who have enrolled for next year, the program is likely to grow to 300 students, up from the 200 it is serving this year, McCall said. GWAHCA’s anatomy and physiology labs are already tight and are not functional enough for dual credit courses.

“As a high school doing dual credit, you have to offer the same experiences and the same teaching level as any college would,” McCall said. “You have to cover the same course learning outcomes. Any two-year college has a course outcome set by the coordinating board. If I don’t have everything that’s exactly like MCC has, that’s OK as long as I can bring the same experience to the student teachingwise and knowledgewise. We try to replicate it how we can.”

Currently, GWAHCA collaborates with local hospitals and business partners to offer a standard and an advanced certified nursing assistant program, pathophysiology, anatomy and physiology, world health research and two health science practicum courses. If the school expands, GWAHCA could add a microbiology course and others in the future, McCall said.

The renovations also would open the door for more instructors and professors to come to the GWAHCA campus and save the district on transportation expenses, Hartley said. Right now, GWAHCA has only one instructor who comes to the campus, McCall said.

“The addition of college-level labs at GWAHCA would open the door for students from across McLennan County to enroll in dual credit science courses that will later help them apply for admission to a number of Allied Health programs at MCC or transfer with the students to colleges and universities across Texas,” MCC dual credit program director Londa Carriveau said.

That is exactly what the program is trying to build, McCall said.

“The next thing in the sequence for GWAHCA right now is to get the labs ready for dual credit that will go hand in hand with the advanced academics, and we can move the students forward into wherever they want to go to,” McCall said.

“The endorsement plan of Allied Health shows a student could get an associate’s degree, 60 hours of college, when they graduate high school at the same time.”

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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