As the new school year gets into full swing, Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines says the Walker Launch careers pathway program and additional security officers for the schools highlight what’s new and exciting this year.

Walker Launch is a high-demand careers pathway program for high school juniors and seniors that enables them to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and at least one certificate upon graduation. The certificates are earned through accelerated training in high-demand, high-paying (often $20 per hour or more) jobs in auto mechanics, welding, HVAC, health care, computer networking, machine design, and cosmetology.

“Our hope and goal is to help students step into high-demand jobs,” Raines said. Perhaps more importantly, he said, “It’s about teaching the future of Walker County to live smarter; to avoid a lifestyle which forces so many families to live paycheck to paycheck.”

Walker Launch is a joint venture among area businesses, industry, the Chamber of Commerce, and local governments partnering with Georgia Northwestern Technical College as the home for the county’s career academy. The county provides transportation and food service, plus a teacher for the students’ core classes. GNTC provides the physical facility, technology and the technical expertise and instruction for the students.

Monday through Thursday students attend their academic and career classes, and on Fridays they learn a variety of soft and professional skills such as punctuality, dependability and accountability, phone etiquette, customer service, communication with customers, employers, and co-workers, critical thinking, personal finances, and similar workplace skills.

This year, 31 students are in the Walker Launch program, and Raines said double that is expected for next year, with the third year program goal at 200+ students.

“Our goal is to get kids ready for work and for life,” Raines said, “and we want to move them into jobs, into business and industry.”

The second highlight of the new year is the addition of three new safety and security officers for the schools in addition to the four current school resource officers (SROs). Two of the new officers are from the Walker County Sheriff’s Department and one is from the LaFayette Police Department.

Raines explained that these officers will rotate among the district’s 15 schools, in and around the buildings and on the parking lots and playgrounds. They will also interact with both students and faculty to ensure an environment in which everyone feels safe, said Raines.

Another safety and security issue the school district has worked on is having a single point of access for each school with an external video/audio monitor that requires visitors to identify themselves in order to gain entry to the school complex.

“We want to make sure our students feel safe and secure and enjoy the experience of coming to school,” said Raines. It’s important that both students and their parents have confidence in the security and safety of each school, he emphasized.

The school district is also promoting officers on school campuses by offering all law enforcement personnel free breakfast and lunch with the students in the schools cafeterias as often as their schedules will allow.

The presence of police cars on campus and officers patrolling and interacting with students can be a major deterrent against problems as well as enhancing an environment and atmosphere of security and safety, said Raines.