- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2016

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) - Glen Malloy breathed a sigh of relief as the first day of classes at the Houston County Career Academy got off to a smooth start.

“Seeing the kids fully appreciate it makes me feel better about the whole project,” said Malloy, principal of the new facility.

The new career academy is located in the old Sears building on West Main Street in Dothan. The new facility takes over the role of the old Houston County Career and Technical Center that was located in Ashford. Houston County Schools administrators moved the program to Dothan to make it more accessible to students from around the county and to take advantage of the space offered by the former Sears facility.

Students were impressed by the large classrooms and modern equipment and decor of the new facility.

“It’s a lot bigger and nicer and we have more use of our equipment,” said student Jennifer Calano.

Tonya Holland, career coach, said, “It really feels like a college campus, and that’s what we were trying to do.”

Malloy said that while the new career academy took over the role of the old career tech center in Ashford, it’s mission is somewhat different. The new career academy is based on providing simulated workplaces for students. The classrooms at the new facility mimic environments students would find themselves in at job sites. Malloy said this approach is intended to give students real-world grounding in the disciplines they are studying.

Marcus Hatcher, of Cottonwood, is studying welding at the academy. He will be able to complete a welding training program at Wallace Community College in just six months after graduating high school thanks to the instruction he’s getting at the new academy.

“I like it,” he said. “It’s definitely a step up from Ashford.”

Chris Reid, of Rehobeth, said the new facility is a shorter commute from his school than the old facility. Reid said he felt that the new facility will provide more educational opportunities.

Malloy said he hopes the career center will eventually offer more college dual enrollment opportunities and some core academics so students can stay at the academy all day if they want to.

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