CUMMING -- From astronauts to zookeepers, kids grow up wanting to become many different things.
But through two programs Forsyth County Schools will offer in the 2014-15 year, students can pick their future career in middle school, start work later in their teen years and have completed half the course load toward their college major before high school graduation.
Per Georgia’s education standards, all high school students must pick a pathway and take three classes related to it. While the offerings vary among schools, students can follow an academic or career pathway, including culinary arts, engineering, teaching and marketing, among many others.
Beginning this year, a select group of dedicated Forsyth students will be able to take it a step further, signing up for a career academy in high school. The goal is to assist students who know what they want to do, either after high school or college.
Forsyth Central High became somewhat of a pilot program when it began offering the STEM Academy for students interested in careers in science, technology engineering or math. Soon, the local school system’s other four high schools will have at least one specialized academy.
“We’re taking our current career pathways and putting them into smaller learning communities, which are better connected between high school and further education in the work place,” said Valery Lang Hall, school system governance and career development coordinator.
“It’s typically a cohort of students, a small community of students, that will take their career pathways together, as well as some type of academic or foreign language class.”
Lambert High will offer the Banking & Finance and the Medical Sciences academies, while North Forsyth will have the Engineering & Technology Academy.
Over at South Forsyth, there will be both the Hospitality and Innovation academies. West Forsyth will offer the Sports, Entertainment & Communications Academy.
South’s Innovation Academy will focus on manufacturing, combining it with German as a foreign language “because of the presence of international business in the community and the growth in areas like manufacturing,” Hall said.
The first three years of the program, students will take three classes every year toward the path, in addition to one academic or foreign language course together as a cohort.
During their fourth year in the program, they will participate in work-based learning. As an example, Hall noted Lambert’s Medical Sciences Academy would give students the chance to do clinical rotations at area hospitals.
“Basically students track together, they form a smaller learning community with a stronger connection for this group between what’s happening in the classroom and what’s happening in the real world,” she said. “We’re building on the success we’ve seen at the STEM Academy.”
Hall said rising freshmen will be able to apply to academies outside the high school in their district. But in its early stages, not every student —even those attending their districted school — will be selected for the small learning communities of between 30 and 60 students.
The academies likely will be filled with students who know early on what they hope to do. While it may be difficult for some eighth-graders to determine that, a middle school connections program could help narrow their options.
“We wanted to take a more systemic look at our middle school connection programs, what high schools those feed into, so that we’re building our programs,” Hall said. “We wanted to make sure we were starting in middle school, to ignite some type of fire in a student … so when they get to high school, they have the opportunity to start down that career path.”
The program will expand on current connection classes, or essentially the electives students choose. While classes such as band and chorus are year round, the majority of connection offerings span nine weeks.
Next year, the classes will be geared more toward career pathways, giving students the chance to explore many options for potential careers.
Frank Gordy, assistant principal at North Forsyth Middle, has been working with the school system’s central office and fellow administrators to coordinate different career connections.
The result is helping students see what offerings they could take and which high schools would be able to help them continue that path.
“We’re trying to take stock of what we’re doing now, looking at what resources we have in terms of trying to provide some support at the middle school level for those pathways to get kids to see if it’s something they might be interested in,” he said.
“It could definitely help students to see if there is something that really gets their interest, and gets them motivated in that area.”
While the system will be increasing career presence at its middle schools, students won’t be required to choose a particular path; rather, it’s a chance to explore a variety of options they may not have known about.
“To me, it’s better for them to decide before they get to college and start paying tuition,” Hall said. “They’re really starting at the elementary level learning careers and in middle school they’re honing that in further … Once they get to high school, they’re really honing that in because they’re choosing a focus.”