Over 750 people walked through the doors of Eastside High School Thursday night to attend the annual Career Academy Showcase. The faculty at Alachua County Public Schools welcomed prospective eighth graders and family members to visit various exhibits and learn about the 15 colleges of cooperative education that are spread across all of the county’s high schools.
From the Academy of Criminal Justice to the Academy of Robotics and Engineering, career academy programs intertwine with high schoolers’ regular curriculum to provide them with learning opportunities in their chosen area of interest. Generally, the programs take up one elective credit of the entire school day, and the remaining hours of instruction consist of completion requirements such as English, math, and social studies.
Shannon Ritter, the director of college and career paths at Alachua County Public Schools, said she hoped the event would educate parents about all the benefits that colleges of higher education can offer their children.
“We can let parents and students know what type of industry certifications align with different academies and what type of internship they can do depending on the program,” she said.
She mentioned that a big incentive for students and parents alike is that students don’t have to be zoned for high school when they’re accepted into their designated academy.
14-year-old Kevin Camps was beaming and upbeat as he walked through the display case with his mother, Khadija. As a student at the Einstein School, Kevin is looking forward to high school.
“I dreamed of going to lofts [High School],” he said.
He is eager to receive applications so that he can apply to the Department of Graphics and Design.
As a mother, Camps believes the program will broaden her son’s perspective.
“I think it allows him to have a full view of what’s on offer in the county,” she said. “A lot of kids who leave middle school aren’t quite sure, and it’s great that a lot of these academies are tailored around what they want to do as they get older.”
Sharing a similar sentiment, Kathleen McNamara believes the program will open up a new path for her middle school son.
“I think he’s really undecided whether he wants to go to a four-year school or look for a vocational program, so that’s just going to give him more opportunities,” she said.
Jayson Douglas, a 13-year-old Howard W. Bishop Middle School student, attended the Academy of Health Professions exhibit after his affinity for physical therapy led him to the event.
“When I was in seventh grade, I hurt myself and went to a physical therapist and I told them I wanted to try it when I was older,” he said. “Well, they said I should come over here [the event] and look at the programs and see how I do through high school.
He was excited about the academies on offer and the potential to learn more about each of them.
“I’m pretty excited because you get to try different programs,” he said. “Once you go to that one high school that you want to go to for the program, it would be pretty fun.”
As a senior at the same academy for the past four years, Mia Cassle is grateful for the opportunities she has been offered.
“I have to choose my clinic and do an electrocardiogram,” she said. “I’ll be certified in two weeks and will be working at Shands next semester.”
While she is unsure about her future in the medical field, she is certain the program will set her apart from other potential candidates.
“I’ll have so many hours until I’m done,” she said. “I know it takes you a lot of hours to get accepted into the hospital’s medical school, so that turns over so many, and then Shands hires right out of that program, so it’s really cool.”
With a similar appreciation for the career academies, Alana Sanchez is a junior in the Academy of Future Teachers at Gainesville High School. Three years ago she visited the same exhibition and was impressed by the Academy’s exhibition. A lover of children and community work, she believes the program was a “perfect foundation to build on,” she said.
A veteran of the program, she highly recommends it to prospective students, but cautions that time management skills are necessary for success.
“You can do an internship in your 11th and 12th grades,” she said. “So it’s a real sense of what it’s actually going to be like one day when you’re in the classroom. Not only do you learn about the students in your classroom, you also learn how they learn. So what will help them become better learners? What will help them understand the material I teach?”