The Huntsville City School System might not be Alabama’s largest school system, but it is one of the state’s premier districts, with a surprising array of choices, particularly at the secondary level. Huntsville high schoolers, for instance, can choose from several stellar programs including those focusing on fine and performing arts, engineering or technology.
Lee High School houses two such programs, the Magnet Program for Creative and Performing Arts, and the Pre-Engineering Magnet, which prepares students for college-level programs in engineering. The arts magnet, which has received many awards for its programs in visual arts, vocal music, creative writing, dance, drama, photography/video, and technical theater production, is particularly popular. Enrollment is by application and interview, audition, or portfolio, and the field is so competitive that some parents put their child on the list to be considered as soon as they are born.
Lee’s pre-engineering program integrates technical and academic skills, and includes in-depth math, technical writing and business mentoring. Enrollment is based on the student’s grades in previous related courses. Another exciting option is Johnson High School’s International Education Magnet Program, developed with the assistance of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Designed to prepare students to live and work with a global mindset, the curriculum allows students to explore world problems, cultures, and political and economic systems, and examine health, population, and environmental concerns.
In addition to the standard languages offered at other high schools – French, Spanish, German, and Latin – students here can also study Russian and Japanese. Huntsville also boasts the New Century Technology High School, a partnership between Huntsville City Schools, Calhoun Community College, the Huntsville business community, and government agencies. Sitting strategically in the shadow of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Saturn V rocket, the program occupies the lower level of Calhoun’s Huntsville campus in Cummings Research Park. Certified teachers instruct aerospace technology, computer information and technology and life and health science, emphasizing team problem-solving and hands-on work.
The Huntsville Center for Technology is a career technical school serving Huntsville’s city high schools. Students earn two credits per year as part of a two-year program. Although technical schools are traditionally geared toward students who don’t plan to attend college, that isn’t the case at HCT, says director Eddie Turner. “More of our students go on to college than at least half of area schools,” he says. Many courses are specifically designed to train students for college study; some even count toward credit hours at local colleges.
If you wanted to make sure every Alabama student had the best possible science education, what’s the first thing you’d do? How about putting the state’s foremost educators in the same building with the country’s top science researchers? Good news: It’s been done. The National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) is a research and education powerhouse located in a city noted for its scientific innovation. “Huntsville’s technology base was founded by rocket scientists,” says Richard McNider, a mathematician and atmospheric scientist who serves as the executive director of NSSTC. “The core of the ability to do new things and to carry new ideas to fruition is somewhat grounded in the basics of science and technology.”
The center was created to ally NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) with Alabama’s seven research universities: Alabama A&M; Auburn University; Tuskegee University; the University of Alabama’s three campuses at Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Huntsville; and the University of South Alabama. Around 400 scientists work at NSSTC along with undergraduate and graduate interns from member universities. Besides the research they do in fields like optics, biotechnology, climatology and earth and space science, NSSTC staff also provide teacher training and science programs for the area’s elementary and secondary schools.