The new Rock Ridge High School is a unique and research-based model of education that will prepare our students for their personal lives as well as their career aspirations. Rock Ridge High School is the only wall-to-wall career academy school north of the Twin Cities.

Rock Ridge High School features four distinct Career Academies, each with a focus on related career pathways and opportunities for students to explore different occupations and identify potential careers that fit their individual interests and aspirations. Academy themes are:

Exploration Academy: In their Freshman year, all students will have opportunities to explore the breadth of career opportunities available across industries as well as develop an awareness of their own unique interests and goals. Through their experience in the Exploration Academy, students will acquire resources to learn about and gain industry exposure in a wide variety of career clusters. Students will then select a career academy to participate in for the remainder of their high school years. As they progress through high school, they will be given wide latitude to select different career academies. These career academies, which start in the sophomore year, are:

Business, Management, Administration, Arts, Communications, and Information Systems: this academy will feature career pathway-themed programming and activities in areas such as IT, finance, and business administration.

Health Science and Human Services: this academy will feature programming and activities connected to healthcare; education and training; law, public safety, corrections; and human services.

Agriculture, Food, Manufacturing, Construction, Engineering and Science: this academy will feature programming and activities related to natural resources; architecture and construction trades; manufacturing; science and engineering; and mining.

Why Career Academies?

The history of the traditional public education system dates back to the 1800s and has evolved over the years into a cultural norm of helping students aspire to four-year colleges and universities. Over the years, this ‘college for all’ philosophy has resulted in a serious mismatch with the needs of our economy and the needs of our students.

Watch this short video for an explanation of the mismatch between the ‘college for all’ philosophy in education and the reality of our economy.

In truth, 70% of all jobs in our economy require a year of education beyond high school, while 30% of jobs require a 4-year degree. In addition, many students who graduate from high school lack clear focus on what jobs may be best suited to their unique personality and skill set. Consequently, many students incur significant student debt without truly understanding whether a particular major or field of study is a right fit for them.

At Rock Ridge High School, we do things differently. Rock Ridge provides opportunities for students to discover their own individual interests and career options to better prepare them for what awaits them after graduation. The focus will be not on ensuring that each student pursues a four-year degree, but instead we will focus on each student and what best suits their talents, interests, and aspirations, which certainly may include the pursuit of a four-year degree or more.

Better Alignment with the Local, State and National Economy

According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Security (DEED), increasingly tight labor markets and a growing scarcity of workers is now recognized as one of Northeast Minnesota’s most significant barriers to future economic growth. We all want to see our local communities grow and thrive. The job market desperately needs people with all levels of education and credentials, more so people with technical and vocational skills. Our local economy is no different. In fact, of jobs in the 7-county Arrowhead region:

  • 67.9% require a high school diploma and/or some kind of on-the-job training (over 91,000 jobs)
  • 6.6% require a vocational degree (over 8,800 jobs))
  • 5.4% require an Associate degree (over 7,300 jobs)
  • 13.6% require a Bachelor degree (over 18,000 jobs)
  • 3.8 % require an advanced degree (over 5,000 jobs)
  • (2.6% of jobs have no clear educational requirement, or over 3,500 jobs)

An assumption many people make is that significant earning power is linked only to a four-year degree. This isn’t necessarily true. In fact, average wages for our region by educational attainment reveal:

  • The average wage paid by jobs that require a high school diploma is $18.84/hour (approximately $39,000 a year*)
  • The average wage paid by jobs that require vocational training (certifications or short-term credentials) is $25.65/hour (approximately $53,000 a year*)
  • The average wage paid by jobs that require an Associate degree is $32.21/hour (approximately $67,000 a year*)
  • The average wage paid by jobs that require a Bachelor degree is $37.77/hour (approximately $78,000 a year*)
  • The average wage paid by jobs that require a Graduate degree is $44.36/hour (approximately $92,000 per year*)

*Assumes full time; data from DEED’s Educational Requirements for Occupations, Occupational Employment Statistics

How is Rock Ridge Different?

The Rock Ridge High School will offer ‘career connected learning’, a system that connects learning to the real world, ensuring students can understand academic content in terms that are relevant to them, is useful, and provides a platform to develop the knowledge, skills, and experiences to help them make better decisions after high school. This is no matter whether they enter the job market immediately or pursue a certification or licensure, enroll in a one- or two-year program, or a traditional four-year degree. It is NOT work training or locking a student into a specific career.

It is no accident that research shows that students who participate in career connected learning are more likely to pursue and complete a postsecondary education that is right for them. It is also important to remember that workforce preparedness is hardly the sole purpose of education; education is a goal in and of itself. But most would agree that it makes a lot of sense to connect education and career goals at an earlier stage rather than half-way through an expensive degree program.

Rock Ridge will implement the following types of activities through a career pathway format:

  • Enhanced Career Awareness: helping students understand the incredible variety of real job opportunities and how their own interests fit.
  • Career Exploration: connecting students with businesses and community expertise for job shadowing, informational interviewing, business tours, and internships.
  • Work Ethic and Life Skills Development: utilizing more project-based learning to teach teamwork, communication skills, entrepreneurial skills, creativity and other 21st century skills.
  • Applied Curriculum: drawing clear parallels between academics and relevance to the world after high school.

The ultimate goal of Rock Ridge is to better prepare ALL students for the best opportunities available to them. It represents a transformative way of delivering education that will create excitement about the learning process and provide confidence and direction for a bright future, both for students and our community.

In The News: Rock Ridge Partners With Essentia Health