Inspire Academy: Where hands-on learning leads to bright futures

Published 9:30 am Friday, June 23, 2023

VALLEY — Dr. Tyler Nelson, the director of Chambers County’s Inspire Academy, talked about his own experience in career tech at Wednesday’s noon hour meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley.

Conventional classroom education, he said, does not reach some students. The real world experiences provided by career tech education (CTE) could be exactly what they need.

Nelson grew up on Jarrett Street in the Fairfax community, just across Highway 29 from Valley High. He felt lost in the classroom in his days at VHS. In math class, for example, when the teacher discussed theorems, derivatives and polynomials. Nelson, like many high school students, couldn’t relate to it.

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He eventually dropped out of high school and got a job working in Fairfax Mill. That’s when his real-world education began. “I knew that I was doing something I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life.” he said.

He earned his GED and looked at the career tech option. Back then it was called trade school and had a negative connotation attached to it. There’s been quite a transformation since then.

“Our economy today depends on what’s taught in career tech,” Nelson said. “Some people with two-year degrees from Southern Union are making more money than many people with masters degrees. If you have young children, encourage them to get into this kind of education.”

In career tech, Nelson saw how those math principles that went over his head in conventional class made sense when they were applied in a real-world setting. Learning became much easier that way. Nelson not only finished high school but went on to college, eventually earning a doctorate in education.

Inspire Academy has nine programs spread across three campuses – the main campus in LaFayette, Valley High and LaFayette High. These programs include agriculture, automotive service, cosmetology, engineering, finance, health science, JROTC, manufacturing and teacher education.

Nelson made a case for investing in career tech education. “Ninety-five percent of CTE students graduate high school, which is 10 percent higher than the national average,” he said. “Seventy-eight percent of CTE graduates enroll in post-secondary education full time. Eighty-one percent of high school dropouts say that real-world skills education would have kept them in school.”

“CTE is the answer for many students,” he continued. “You can learn how to do things in the real world. A student that’s been making Ds and Fs in math class can have something click for them when they take a machinery class in career tech. I am proud of what we do at Inspire Academy. Our greenpower team placed second nationally and our middle school team was first in the nation this past year. Race Edmondson placed first in the state in the Automotive Service Skills USA event and is getting ready to represent us nationally.”

What a football team is for high school, the greenpower team is for Inspire Academy.

Greenpower racing is all about a team getting as much out of a single battery that they can. Team members pool their knowledge and experience do get their green car to outlast the others. “You have one battery to get around that track,” Nelson said. “You have to think about how you are using it. Your pit crew has to be smart in electronics.”

Every program at Inspire Academy has a student organization such as FFA, FBLA and FCCLA behind it. “It’s a testament to our teachers how well our students are doing,” Nelson said.

A virtual program began during Covid and has grown into a high-quality program. “We graduated 92 percent of our students this year,” Nelson said.

Inspire Virtual Academy is completely online. Students can communicate with their teachers both online and in person. They can also participate in band and in sports.

:If you know anyone who might be interested in this, please send them our way,” Nelson said.

Agriculture is a very popular program at the Academy. Students often have plant sales and have become quite proficient in beekeeping. They’ve had lots of honey to sell.

“We have 10 hives now,” Nelson said. “This is one example of a lot of cool stuff we have going on. The teachers love what they are doing. The kids and their parents do, too.”

Nelson invited members of the club to take a tour of Inspire Academy and to see for themselves what goes on there every day. “I hope to see you on our campus this fall,” he said.