The new Moorhead High School Career Academy officially opened on Friday, Oct. 8, in space that started out as a Sam’s Club. That’s not the only transformation that’s taking place.

Whenever a new building opens, there’s a natural tendency to focus on brick-and-mortar details. The building’s renovation construction budget was $21.8 million, the building was acquired for $4.25 million and has 177,000 square feet of space.

But the real significance is what’s going on in the new career academy, located three miles from the campus of Moorhead High School, which will soon occupy a new building.

The new buildings will enable new ways of teaching and learning. At the career academy, students in grades 9 through 12 will be able to explore a wide range of career pathways.

Students will learn in classroom, laboratory and collaborative settings. They also will be exposed to on-the-job training.

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Career academies are a relatively new learning environment that have been used successfully around the country, including in Bismarck and Sioux Falls, S.D. They help to open up new, experiential pathways to careers.

That’s obviously good for students. It’s also good for workforce development and good for employers — welcome at a time that the chronic shortage of workers is exacerbated by the pandemic.

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At the Moorhead High School Career Academy, students will be part of small learning communities. They’ll follow an educational timeline that allows flexibility to meet the student’s needs.

Learning communities cluster related career paths. The farm to table learning community will allow students to explore the culinary arts, natural resources and agricultural management, with courses in nutrition, international food, global agriculture and conservation science.

A health and human potential learning community focuses on learning opportunities in health careers and biotechnology as well as education, law and public safety. Other learning communities include entrepreneurship and business, information technology and design, liberal arts and communications.

A career academy will be coming soon to Fargo as well. Ground was broken in July for the North Dakota State College of Science’s Career Innovation Center. The $30 million center will open in 2022.

We’ll have entered a new era in the nexus between education and workplace when both academies are up and running. Sanford Health, for example, will donate $1 million over 10 years to develop curriculum, including health career courses.

These innovative educational programs will open new gateways for young people, allowing opportunities that nicely complement those offered by standard high school curricula as well as North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University Moorhead, Concordia College and M-State’s Moorhead campus.

The career academies will help Fargo-Moorhead develop the metro area’s most important economic and social asset, its human capital. We’ll all benefit from that.