Ready, Set, Career!
HOW HIGH SCHOOL ACADEMIES ARE PREPARING OUR STUDENTS FOR REAL LIFE
It’s never too early to begin thinking about your future, and there is a plethora of options in Alachua County Schools available to incoming high schoolers to help get them started down that path. Each November, hundreds of current eighth-graders and their families attend the Career Academy Forum, where they are able to meet and learn about the district’s 14 career academies.
From entrepreneurship and health care to finance and gaming, the district’s various academies focus on topics across the spectrum and offer students real, hands-on experience in a specialty while receiving their high school education. The popularity of the forum shows a high level of interest among incoming high schoolers and their parents.
Theresa Beachy, mother to eighth grader Nathaniel Harrison, said she was excited to attend the event with her son.
“I think it’s important for us to see all the options,” said Beachy, whose son is very interested in a career in music. “Nathaniel came tonight to find out more about the Entrepreneurial Academy at Buchholz High School because he wants to make music and build a business around it, like producing music. I think it’s great that these academies offer real world skills and experiences for students so that they gain valuable experience.”
The Entrepreneurial Academy at Buchholz allows students to receive the same high school education at the school that any other student would receive while also completing a four-year program focused on entrepreneurship, marketing, hospitality and business management. Students are encouraged to develop projects in areas of specialized interest like fashion merchandising, advertising, sports and entertainment marketing or international business. Students compete in business plan competitions, internships and workshops.
Beyond the real-world skills, the academy has been an asset for students who are developing their social and leadership skills.
“I was a pretty shy student when I came to high school but being in the program taught me to open up as I gained more skills and became more involved,” said Morgan Carnes, a student in the Entrepreneurial Academy. “Now I am so excited for the future because of everything I learned in this program.”
A Variety of Skillsets and Interests
Loften High School, located on the east side of Gainesville, is home to five professional magnet academies, including Automotive Technology, Fire and Emergency, Gaming and Mobile Apps, Graphic Art and Design, and Robotics and Engineering. Loften’s motto, “High Achievement through Career Education,” reflects its commitment to preparing students with skills needed for immediate employment or for building for their future career.
“We are a traditional high school with a small, family atmosphere,” said Cheryl S. Allen, assistant principal of Lofton’s Professional Academies Magnet. “Through our five separate academies, students gain hands-on experience, and our graduates have a wealth of knowledge and are ready for post-secondary education.”
For example, Loften’s Academy for Gaming and Mobile Apps shows their dedication for embracing the current and future needs of our workforce. New computing jobs are growing three times faster than the number of computer science graduates. The video game design field is quickly becoming the premiere medium for cultural storytelling, information and entertainment.
The Gaming and Mobile App program offers courses that provides knowledge and skills needed to prepare for further education and careers such as a game designer, programmer or developer and includes applied learning that contributes to the academic knowledge, higherorder reasoning and problem-solving skills, including employability skills.
Students work with the same technology and software as today’s design professionals while pursuing traditional art classes in addition to technology-intensive classes. They also have the opportunity to take a course like AP Computer Science that offer them academic credit and insight into their chosen profession.
“We start by learning a few steps at a time, which is helpful to introduce us to the program. We learn to create games and get a more technical view of game programming. The best part is the satisfaction of learning how the coding works,” said Alexander Poole, a student in the Academy of Gaming and Mobile Apps. “We learn to design games that other people like, so it’s up to us to figure out other people’s tastes and wants. We play each other’s games to evaluate each other, and we get very close.”
Becoming Career Ready
According to the Florida Department of Education, students are considered college and career ready when they have the knowledge, skills, and academic preparation needed to succeed in college courses without remedial education.
“The students know that they have the knowledge base to be successful going forward in college. But most importantly, it shows the academic institution that they are applying to that they also have the foundation and skills necessary to be successful. These are the same milestones that are needed for entry into and success in postsecondary workforce education or directly into a job that offers gainful employment and career advancement,” said Janine Plavac, director of the Gainesville High School’s Academy of Health Professions.
Educating our Future Caregivers
One of the most stable and growing career fields today is in health care. The Gainesville High School Academy of Health Professions provides experiences for students who are interested in health careers. The program has an integrated curriculum between academic and clinical experiences in health care settings. The goal is for students to be better prepared to seek employment in the health field so they can work as technicians but also continue their education after graduation from high school.
The program works cooperatively with Santa Fe College’s programs for EKG Technician, Dental Aide, Physical Therapy Aide, Certified Pharmacy Technician, Nursing careers, and the Emergency Medical Services and is operated in conjunction with the health care providers of the community. All of the clinical components of the program prepare students for entry-level jobs as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), physical therapy or rehab aide, EKG technician, pharmacy technician, dental aide or CMT.
“Career and technical magnet programs, such as the AHP program, are invaluable for students that will pursue a career in health care. The reason is that they lay the foundation for the students to get a ‘leg up’ on others that are applying to post graduate programs because the students come out of high school with an industry certification in their chosen senior clinical field,” said Janine Plavac, director of the Academy of Health Professions.
“The advantage of being in this program is industry certifications that they will earn along with real experience in taking care of people in the health care setting. It also sets them up for immediate employment because as they are working at their clinical settings, such as North Florida Regional Medical Center, UF Health, and Walgreen’s pharmacy, they are making contacts and their supervisors are seeing their skill set.”
Work experience and financial fortitude such as this can be invaluable. According to the Institute for College Access & Success’ Project on Student Debt, 68 percent of 2015 bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with student loan debt, and the average was $30,100 per borrower. The average hourly pay for CNA, pharmacy technician, or dental assistant can be anywhere between $12-$18 an hour, which can greatly help offset tuition.
“In fact, the majority of these students use their industry certification to work during college and get the experience they need in order to apply to post graduate schools, such as nursing, physical therapy, and pharmacy,” Plavac said.
Brendan Foley was drawn to the Academy due to his interest in health professions, somewhat influenced by his mom Michelle’s role as an occupational therapist.
“Brendan is interested in physical therapy or sports medicine, and he likes the hands-on training that he can get while still in high school,” Michelle Foley said. “I think he has been positively influenced by seeing my career.”
Building Scientists One Step at a Time
The Biotechnology Education program at Santa Fe High School offers academic and career and technical education credits for a career path or articulation into Santa Fe College or the University of Florida. Biotechnology is the technological application of living organisms or their derivatives, such as DNA, proteins, or cells, to make or modify new products or processes.
Employment of biological technicians is projected to grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. The Santa Fe Biotechnology Program boasts a fun learning environment in one of the fastest growing industries with three primary focus areas: agriculture, medicine and technology.
The school is located only 3 miles from Progress Park in Alachua, home to more than 30 companies employing more than 1,100 people in biotechnology and life sciences, which can provide valuable internships and job opportunities for graduates. In addition, the program works cooperatively with Santa Fe College’s Charles R. and Nancy V. Perry Center for Emerging Technologies located near Progress Park for real-life experiences and dual enrollment for students to earn college credits.
“I’ve always been into science, and I decided on this program because I was able to observe all of the passion of the students that were already in the program,” said student Jacques Daniels. “It’s been an absolutely amazing program. After the first week, you are in the labs experimenting with chemicals under supervision from your teachers, who are all so amazing and excited. It’s very inspiring. I am thrilled I chose this program. I know what my future holds as a biotechnologist.”
Invested in Saving Lives
Although Takara White will only be a senior in high school, she already has her future mapped out. White was a student at the Academy of Fire and Emergency Medical Sciences at Loften High School, which introduces students to the fields of health care, public safety, and emergency response. The curriculum covers emergency medical response, health foundations, anatomy and physiology, and three firefighting classes.
White is planning to be certified as an Emergency Medical Technician and plans to continue her firefighter education at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala. From there, she hopes to continue her education further in health care.
The academy’s health science courses cover the basic medical skills in CPR, patient assessment and first aid. During their senior year, students have the opportunity to dual enroll in Santa Fe Colleges’ EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) program. At the conclusion of the program, students interested in earning their Florida State Fire Fighter I certification will have the opportunity to complete a short course where they will be eligible for state certification.
For Charles Leverett, the combination of learning fun, action-packed skills, and gaining health care knowledge is why he loves the program.
“We get to learn cool skills we can use in firefighting or just lifesaving situations, but we also get vital medical knowledge. It’s an awesome program,” Leverett said.
The practical classes and potential to earn certifications is one of the main features that attracted White to the program, in addition to her interest in the field.
“This program gives me a backbone to my future. I have a certain way to have a job and profession that can help me pay for my future education,” said White, who ultimately wants to become a nurse in an emergency vehicle or airlift helicopter or even at a firehouse. “I will always have the skills that I learned through this program, which gives me a great foundation.”
To find out more about specific programs, click here.