Driving north on Lanier 400 Parkway, Alliance Academy for Innovation rises majestically from the horizon to greet you.
The building — a sleek, three-story facility of white lines and brick — is nestled on a hill, looking like something between a college campus and aerospace laboratory, with gorgeous views of the north Georgia mountains behind it.
After many long years of planning and preparation, this newest Forsyth County high school is finished and ready for furniture, technology and students. But, even empty, without the furniture, equipment and finishing touches, the Alliance building itself is still something to behold.
This week, Alliance Academy received its certificate of occupancy, and local community leaders and representatives from Forsyth County got their first look at the new campus. Visitors were taken on a walk-through of the new school and guided through its halls by Principal Brandi Cannizzaro.
Inside, the school is a hive of work rooms, laboratories and career pathway labs, which surround several large, open plan areas for cafeteria and lounge spaces on the back of the school that provide views of the north Georgia mountains through large windows.
“I think it’s just going to be a great place for our students to come and learn each day,” Cannizzaro said.
The Alliance program has distilled the high school experience into “five interest-themed academies or schools” including, aerospace and logistics, criminal justice and law, hospitality and design, healthcare and first responders, mechatronics and energy. Each school pathway will have its own courses and career pathway labs, many with special equipment specific to the jobs in that field.
The different career pathway labs were one of the main attractions on the walkthrough.
Each corresponds to a different pathway and often mimics real world situations and places, so students can get real-world experience without leaving the classroom.
Students in the criminal justice and law pathway will have access to a mock courtroom modeled after ones in the Forsyth County Courthouse and a crime scene analysis lab. Students from the aerospace and logistics pathway will have access to flight simulators and a large warehouse-like logistics lab. Students in the healthcare and first responder pathway will have access to the back half of an ambulance and two rooms with medical scenarios in them.
“We worked with Lanier Tech and the University of North Georgia on all the architecture just to make sure it meets our curriculum needs and their curriculum needs. Every lab was designed with them at the table with us,” said Valery Lowe, director of college and career development for Forsyth County Schools.
Cannizzaro said Alliance pathways will help students focus on what they need to know for the career they want. She said that it will allow core education and pathway classes to intersect and complement each other, so students can get the most out of their classes.
The school received more than 607 applications for the 2018-19 school year and according to Cannizzaro the facility has accepted 600 upcoming ninth and 10th graders combined.
She said the Alliance Academy requires students to go through three years of the school’s program — a rising grade level each year — with the first graduating class scheduled for 2021. She said she predicts the school will meet the max capacity of 1,200 students in that time.
After seeing the career pathway labs, Forsyth County Superintendent Jeff Bearden agreed with Cannizzaro’s assessment of the school’s future growth, saying that staff and administrators were surprised at how evenly applications had come in from schools across the county.
“We were a little concerned, because students and parents had not seen the facility yet. But we will start next school year with nearly 600 students and we think that from that point forward it’s going to be a lottery system. Because once kids and parents get in here and see the opportunity kids have, people are going to want to attend,” he said.
The tour ended at the back of the Alliance Academy building in the currently unfinished Junior Achievement space.
In the Junior Achievement space, a gymnasium sized room lined on all sides with dozens of miniature, as-yet-uncompleted business facades and storefronts modeled after real places in north Georgia.
Junior Achievement representative Lee Highsmith explained that the space will soon be teeming with fifth and sixth grade students, all coming to the space to learn about economics by running the town on their own.
“They will learn about careers, and they will learn that you work at a job to make money and once you make money how you manage the money. We think this is so important because colleges report that they lose more students to accumulated debt than to academic failure,” Highsmith said.
Once complete, many of the buildings will be modeled after businesses and organizations that would normally be in a city or town.
She said that between 15,000 and 17,000 students from surrounding areas will have access to the space in the future.
“We want them to learn that not all jobs require a college degree to have a good living, but all jobs require some kind of training beyond high school. And you absolutely have to have that college diploma,” she said.
Lowe said that the Junior Achievement space, which was funded by a $3.5 million endowment to Junior Achievement from Mike and Linda Cottrell, will probably not open until August. Alliance is scheduled to hold its grand opening July 21.
“We are thrilled to be done as early as we are with the certification of occupancy, so we can now start getting furniture and equipment in the space,” she said.