Local High School Academies Offer a Path to the Future

On Monday, April 2, 2012 - 22:36
Sandra Valdez had just finished interviewing students for the Academy of Teaching, Education Profession and Public Service at Space Coast High School, and she was excited – to put it mildly. “These are amazing kids with amaz­ing dreams,” says the veteran educator, who heads up the program that will begin in fall 2008, along with the new S.T.E.A.M. Academy (science, technology, aerospace and manufacturing) at Space Coast High. “I see hope. I see kids who are carrying on the torch, wanting to give something back to their community.” Valdez’s enthusiasm is under­standably contagious. In the past several years, Titusville’s high schools have inaugurated popular academy programs in fields as diverse as medical services, the arts, and business and finance, offering students small-group intensive study and internships in their chosen fields of interest, as well as hands-on professional training and advice. The result: a win for schools, students and the business community. The academies, which began 11 years ago in Brevard County, were inspired by the National Academy Foundation’s initiative, launched in New York City in 1982. A partnership between businesses and schools, NAF today serves 50,000 students around the country. Brevard’s academy programs, which received more than $630,000 in grants from the state of Florida in 2007, are part of the district’s Secondary Schools of National Prominence initiative. Academies, open to all students but limited in enrollment, offer “cohort” learning, in which students, teachers and administrators work closely with one another through a student’s sophomore, junior and senior years. Students are also mentored by local professionals, and through field trips, internships and school programs with local businesses, they come to know the day-to-day realities of the careers they have in mind. “A big part of career preparation is finding the right fit,” says Deborah Blair, who helped launch the first academy program at Melbourne High 11 years ago and now works with students, teachers and business leaders as education program director with the Community Educators Credit Union. “We’ve hosted academy students here, for example, who were thinking about being tellers, but who found out there are lots of other options here, such as marketing and IT.” At Astronaut, students may choose to enroll in the Academy of Health Sciences, the Academy of Engineering or the Academy of Business and Finance. Titusville High offers four academies: Business and Industry, Health and Human Services, Letters and Sciences and Visual and Performing Arts. Space Coast’s two new academies will be the school’s first, and anticipation is running high. “Our academies are designed for kids to leave with professional certification and enough poise and strength to make it in the collegial world, too,” Valdez says. “Going to high school is like being on a swinging bridge. If you put up ropes and guide them, students can march right across.”