LEETONIA, Ohio (WKBN) — About a month ago, Leetonia Exempted Village Schools was approved of a unique 21st-century learning grant for the district’s Innovative Career Exploration Program, also known as ICE.

The nearly $1 million grant, awarded by Columbiana County Educational Service Center, will be administered throughout five years.

“There is a need to start empowering our students, getting them out in the community, learning about these careers, thinking about their future a little bit,” said Ryan O’Donnell, ICE program coordinator.

Around 40 students grades 7 through 12 are enrolled in the after-school program. After completing a series of self assessments, students are linked with local businesses based on their passions.

“It’s whatever you want it to be,” said Thomas Pieri, with the ICE program. “You can decide where you want to go, what you want to see.”

Most recently students went on a field trip to a local 3D pattern printer.

“We have a whole student panel, and they give us ideas about what they want to do: ‘Hey, we want to go check out a hospital — we want to be a nurse one day,'” O’Donnell said.

“We really don’t want it to look, taste, smell, feel, anything like school,” said Superintendent Dennis Dunham.

The hope is to have field trips each week to local businesses that spark students’ interests.

“They’re going to develop the program, not the adults developing the program for the students,” Dunham said.

As for the students, they’re looking forward to meeting others with similar career interests.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for kids to gather around and talk more,” said Tayla Zepernick, with the ICE program.

The Leetonia school district wants to be a model for other schools looking for nontraditional ways of learning.

“They have come up with amazing ideas already, and they want to start doing community service, planning fundraisers — really taking on a leadership role,” O’Donnell said.