MARIETTA — Students at the new $14.5 million Cobb Innovation and Technology Academy are starting to see what hands-on learning there will look like when they return to the classroom and the academy opens to students for the first time.

About 150 students are enrolled in one of the 15 career pathways at the academy, in the form of a three-year program taken through elective courses. Close to half will attend in-person when high school students start returning to campus Nov. 5, according to Tiffany Barney, academy director.

The facility is designed to eventually house 500 students.

At the academy, many of Cobb County School District’s popular career pathways that have a demand for workers can be found in one place. The facility, which was built with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax dollars, houses career pathways in the areas of healthcare, computer science and maker industries, and is an addition to Osborne High School.

Wednesday, the academy opened up for a first round of tours for parents and students in the program, who got to meet some of the faculty and see up-close some of the technology and equipment they’ll work with when in-person classes resume: 3-D printers, welders, electrical displays, heavy machinery simulators and more.

Instead of traditional classrooms, the facility mainly consists of large lab spaces with pathway-related equipment and some flexible spaces. In an emergency medical classroom, an ambulance simulator helps an hypothetical ambulance trip to a hospital come to life. A surgical technology room features an Anatomage table, a large touchscreen device that shows the human body in 3-D, at different levels from the skin to organs and blood vessels, and can be manipulated to see the subject from multiple angles. In a welding area, there are welding simulators, 10 welding stations, a plasma table, roller and drill presses.

“There’s only one high school diploma, but what we’re doing is taking your electives and focusing them so you can see what you’re interested in,” Barney said.

Freshman Kayana Sadler, who is enrolled in an introductory healthcare course at the academy, said she’s looking forward to experiencing the program in-person. She said she wants to become a physician’s assistant or an OB-GYN one day, and is interested in taking the clinical lab path in high school.

“I think it was cool,” Sadler said of the visit. “I can’t wait to actually come participate and interact with people.”

Kathleen Rodriguez, a student in the automotive program, said she’s “testing the waters” to find out if it’s something she’s interested in as a career.

“I feel like it has a lot of potential in helping people,” Rodriguez said of the academy.

Barney said 156 students are currently enrolled at the academy; academy students attend the rest of their courses at Osborne High School. About 60, she said, have said that they will be attending in-person when high school starts face-to-face instruction in the district Nov. 5. The plan is to add about 150 students a year until the program maxes out at 500. The academy is open to students from every high school in the district; those outside the Osborne area will be transported with centralized buses.

“This building was built for the students,” Barney said after the first day of tours. “I was hired in September 2019 and we’ve been waiting to have students here. I can pick out colors and furniture and work with our team to do that, but the students really bring life to the facility. When we can actually get them here, so they can learn here and do the hands-on skills, that’s what makes this such a special place.”

Barney said the academy’s 15 pathways include: cybersecurity, networking, energy and power, clinical lab, patient care, emergency medical responder, phlebotomy, surgical technology, automotive, carpentry, welding, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), masonry, plumbing and electrical. Students are enrolled in 14 pathways this fall; energy and power will be open next school year, after official partnerships with businesses are established.

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