Jul. 4—HUNTSVILLE — After years of extensive growth, Huntsville High School's criminal justice program is seeking the community's help in turning a new leaf, as they focus more than ever on molding their students to enter the workforce through sponsorship and agency collaboration.
It was just six-years-ago that HHS criminal justice alumna turned teacher, Jordan Huebner, remembers only one educator running all of the criminal justice classes at the school. Now, in her time heading the program alongside fellow educator Ryann Kaaa-Bauer, she says that enrollment has grown enormously and their retention for all four years has been strong, revealing the program's limitations and sparking the need for expansion.
"We're kind of to the point where we're maxing out our classroom seating, to where, instead of having one class period of one subject, we're having it multiple times throughout the day," Huebner said.
"With COVID, we were unable to participate in hardly anything this last year, and so we basically spent this year thinking about how else can we get our kids involved in the community? How else can we get our kids real world experience, other than us just standing up and talking about it at school," Huebner added.
Huebner and Kaaa-Bauer will be building upon the success of the existing program in place, to better connect their students with the community and meet the growing demand in the criminal justice field.
The HHS program will be expanding its reach to work with additional criminal justice agencies outside of Walker County. They will be adding new community events, like a kids safety bash in sync with the Kats Safety Bash and National Night Out, that will be geared more towards their students during the school day.
However, many of their larger efforts will be a push towards the CTE program's goals of making sure that their kids have the skills they need to be employable right out of high school.
"The ones who have decided to continue into this field, their experience in our program has helped that a lot. It's helped them with their interviews and made them higher on the list of people who applied for jobs in this field because not only do we teach them about the criminal justice field, but we also teach them employment skills," Huebner said, adding that they cover interview and communication skills that gives them an edge in any profession they choose to pursue after high school.
Kaaa-Bauer and Huebner have been working with agencies to find out what certifications the kids will need to get jobs in the criminal justice field, and are working on providing access to those certifications before their students graduate. As the program grows, Kaaa-Bauer and Huebner are hoping to bring in a third teacher and possibly offer dual credit courses for students that want to progress on to college.
Until then, their senior internship program will be getting a revamp, moving from unpaid weekly rotations at different agencies, to a co-op program that will arrange paid part time jobs for their students in criminal justice agencies. Kaaa-Bauer and Huebner hope that the new format will help build bridges for community relations benefitting the students with real life experience, performing tasks as small as simple clerical work.
"These kids will not turn down that job experience, it is that real life opportunity before they go to college to see if they like that field," Kaaa-Bauer said.
It also sets possible employers up with candidates that they can retain even after graduation if they find a good fit.
However, not all students have time to commit to a part time job while in school. To serve those unable to participate in the co-op program, they will be starting up their own student and alumni citizens police academy to refresh skills learned in the HHS criminal justice courses, while making contact with and learning about different local agencies.
Kaaa-Bauer and Huebner hope that their planned partnerships and events will provide diversity in their coverage to better resonate with their students, many of whom already come from a criminal justice background through their families.
"We're creating these events and really trying to push for those co-ops and push for those sponsorships and everything like that, because we're wanting to reach those kids that are younger to let them know what our program is, that we're here and that we're not going anywhere," Kaaa-Bauer said.
For criminal justice agencies interested in speaking to classrooms of students or partnering with the program to provide co-op opportunities to students, contact Kaaa-Bauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or Huebner at email@example.com. Monetary donations and sponsorships are also appreciated, as are donations of snacks, supplies and give away items.