SALINEVILLE - With Ohio becoming one of the fastest growing states in the country for gas and oil drilling activity, the new shale industry charter school, Utica Shale Academy of Ohio, is designing a curriculum to give its students an edge in the gas and oil job market.
The academy, located on Southern Local's K-12 campus on state Route 39, is set to open in mid-September of this year. For now, school officials are busy working with the gas and oil industry, colleges and private education firms to develop a curriculum that will help the academy's graduates build a career in the oil and gas industry.
Southern Local Superintendent John Wilson, who was instrumental in the academy's development, says the academy's websites - usaofohio.org and uticashaleschool.com - are up and running and receiving applications for enrollment from interested students. Wilson said he could not provide hard enrollment numbers at this time, but noted the academy needs a minimum 25 students to open in September.
As students begin enrolling in the shale academy, school officials are putting the finishes touches on what they say is a cutting edge curriculum that blends shale industry-oriented engineering and science with traditional classroom-style learning.
"The industry is driving the curriculum because it benefits them to develop a work force," said Wilson
Many courses will be taught through an online learning program called Virtual Learning Academy, according to Jefferson County Educational Service Center Supervisor Chuck Kokiko.
Kokiko, who also played a major role in the shale school's development, said the VLA will be used primarily for student's core courses required by the Ohio Department of Education. The VLA will offer more than 100 courses for students in grades ninth through 12th and include traditional course and electives geared toward the oil and gas industry.
Kokiko says the shale academy has been working with private companies like PetroEd, a Houston, Texas, based online learning firm for the energy industry, to develop a curriculum that is up to date with the latest industry trends and technology. PetroEd offers gas and oil industry education colleges and high schools as well as continuing education to current gas and oil employees, according to Kokiko.
"They have been educating employees of the oil and gas industry for many years," said Kokiko.
Shale academy officials say online training programs, like the International Association of Drilling Contractors' "Rig Pass," will give students the opportunity to virtually explore drilling rigs and technology in ways that would be impossible on an actual rig.
"If you're on well pad drilling, once the drill bit goes into the ground, you really don't have a good idea of what's going on but with the 3-D models and animation you get a behind the scenes look at what's going on," said Kokiko.
Rig Pass training is one of two programs that will allow students to earn certain training and safety certificates before they hit the job market, according to academy officials.
"Basically, it addresses safety issues and everything needed to get onto a rig," said Kokiko.
The Utica Shale Academy curriculum will be tailored to each individual student depending on grade level and core requirements already met, according to academy officials.
"We'll look at each individual's needs and try to build a portfolio that is most beneficial to them," said Kokiko.
Whether students are heading straight to work in the oil and gas industry or going on to study the industry in college, academy officials say they have spent the last several months forging industry connections to help students achieve their goals. Currently, the shale academy has partnerships with Stark State College and Eastern Gateway Community College, both of which offer dual credit for some of the classes offered by the academy. These institutions have operated gas and oil industry training programs for many years and will bring added resources and expertise to the table, says Kokiko. He notes that the academy is working with these institutions to develop programs to earn students college credits and put them on the fast track to certain oil and gas related degrees.
"Once we see where students are with their graduation requirements, we can focus on getting them a jump start on their associate degree or gaining employment," said Kokiko.
Kokiko says the long-term goal for Utica Shale Academy of Ohio is to develop an advisory board made up of representatives from gas and oil industry' companies and educators from the academy and parents of students from the surrounding community. The board would meet several times a year to determine if the academy is meeting the gas and oil industry's needs and explore ways to improve it.