Get With The Program

Attaining the American Dream—success and prosperity through hard work and personal initiative—has become highly dependent on the job of the dreamer. And that job has become highly dependent on the dreamer’s level of education. In today’s world of global economics, where more than 40 million American jobs are tied directly to international trade and job competition is now an international challenge, a college education has become a virtual necessity for anyone who wants to truly realize this elusive dream.

Recognizing this need, area public high schools have stepped up to provide the programs, curricula and accompanying support necessary to prepare local students for the rigors of a successful post-secondary education and/or skills to be successful when entering the workforce. Here are some of the programs available to local students that will provide them the proper tools to achieve continued academic and real-world success.

Marion County Center for the Arts (MCCA)

The Marion County Center for the Arts (MCCA) at West Port High School is a visual and performing arts program attended by more than 850 students from Marion County and the surrounding area. According to program coordinator Laurie Reeder, the mission statement of MCCA is “to prepare artistically talented students for post-secondary arts education and/or employment in the arts, while aspiring to the highest quality arts and academic instruction possible.”

“Philosophically, this program helps prepare our students for life,” Reeder says. “MCCA students learn a multitude of life lessons, including teamwork, sacrifice, commitment, work ethic and time management… the arts create in them a passion that is there for the rest of their lives.”

Reeder says the program includes 2-D art, 3-D art, acting, chorus, dance, digital imaging, directing for theater, electronic music, guitar, instrumental music, keyboarding, orchestra, photography, visual ensemble, rock ensemble, technical theater and television production. Students applying for the program, like any other magnet program in Marion County, must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and have passing scores on their Florida Standards Assessments.

Eva Schore, a graduating senior at West Port, has been accepted into the School of Music at Florida State University and credits the MCCA program with her success.

“MCCA gave me an outlet within school hours to practice and gain experience playing the oboe while in orchestra,” she says.“This experience will help me as I enter Florida State University this fall.”

Power Generation Academy

Don Slocum was well-prepared to take over the Power Generation Academy at Dunnellon High Schoolfour years ago. Slocum was an experienced business owner and had a prior career as a master machinist.

“I run the program like a business,” he says, “so the students learn employability skills, such as how to get and keep a job, and the technical skills necessary to become an electrical maintenance technician.

The Power Generation program prepares students for jobs in the power and energy industry, such as plant operator, electrician, instrument and control technician, and maintenance mechanic.

“This is a very well-rounded program,” says Slocum. “The curriculum is from the National Center for Construction Education and Research, and by the time a student leaves here, he or she can do practically anything the industry requires of them—electrical theory, industrial safety, tool use, hard work—they learn it all. Our students can go into a major shop and practically rebuild any machine in the place.”

“I learned so much over the four years of the program, from basic safety all the way to motor controls and everything in between,” says program graduate Roberto Webb. “Power Generation Academy provided a great four years of hands-on work in a shop environment, and it taught me a lot—most importantly it taught me to always work hard.”

International Baccalaureate (IB)

International Baccalaureate (IB) is an internationally based educational program designed to fully prepare motivated students for post-secondary education. The IB curriculum is academically rigorous and classes include: English, mathematics, arts, foreign language, experimental sciences, and individuals and societies. Students earning an IB diploma can receive up to 30 hours of college credit.

“The program was designed in the 1980s to create an internationally regulated educational curriculum that is uniform worldwide,” says IB program director Susan Ferguson of Lake Weir High School. “The IB program here at Lake Weir is identical to the IB program you would find in Spain, France, Africa, Australia or Japan.”

Lake Weir high school has offered IB classes for five years and presently has more than 200 students enrolled in the program. Vanguard High School also offers an IB program.

“The program is very, very appealing to colleges and universities. When they accept a student who has graduated with an IB diploma, they are getting a student who is well-versed in leadership and community service, a student who already knows how to perform experiments, do lab work and how to perform research,” Ferguson says.

Engineering and Manufacturing Institute of Technology (EMIT)

For more than 20 years, the EMIT program at Forest High School has been preparing students for a post-secondary education in engineering.

“Today we have more than 225 students in the EMIT program,” says program coordinator and mathematics instructor Raymond James. “EMIT has a strong engineering curriculum that includes classes in drafting, mathematics and English, and it also allows our students to take honors or AP classes simultaneously. One highlight of the program is our annual TLA, or thematic learning activity, where student teams design, build and present a STEM-driven project that encompasses all aspects of the EMIT learning program. Students also participate in the FIRST robotic competition each year.”

Robert Strickland, a graduating senior who will be attending the University of Florida feels that the program has helped him better prepare for the rigors of college.

“Throughout high school I have been involved in the EMIT program. In this STEM-oriented program, students are required to participate in TLAs and the EMIT Open,” he says. “Being in the program has allowed me to become an involved student in my school and in my community.”

Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE)

“The AICE Program has been at North Marion High School for nine years, and we love it,” says AICE coordinator Dana Spencer. “It offers great flexibility for our students while providing a rigorous academic curriculum that is unsurpassed when it comes to preparing them for post-secondary education.”

Spencer says AICE is an international pre-university program designed by the University of Cambridge in England and is for students in grades nine through 12. Students in the program can receive an AICE diploma, which affords them up to 45 hours of college credit and the top Bright Futures scholarship.

According to Jeffery Brewer, the AICE coordinator at Belleview High School, the program includes four areas of study: mathematics and science; language arts; arts and humanities; and global perspectives.

“Students are required to take and pass a minimum of seven exams in the four areas of study in order to earn the AICE diploma,” says Brewer. “Last year 78 of our students earned the Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholar award.”

The AICE program has earned great respect in the academic community.

“Belleview and North Marion High Schools are ranked No. 1 and 2 in Marion County on the Washington Post’s ‘Most Challenging High School’ list, and we firmly believe this is because the AICE Program in our schools provides such a well-rounded and demanding curriculum for our students,” says Spencer.

Biotechnology and Biomedical

Teachers at North Marion High School played a critical role in developing Florida’s Industrial Biotechnology Program, which is now offered at their school, as well as throughout the state. 

“Ten years ago, we participated in the NSF funded project through the University of Florida, helping write the standards for the high school and college programs,” says North Marion’s Industrial Biotechnology Program coordinator, Carla Reedy. “Our program is well-established and works closely with UF’s biotility program at the Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology.”

According to Reedy, Industrial Biotechnology involves using processes that already exist in nature to develop usable products. The classic example is human insulin, a biopharmaceutical that is now produced by genetically engineered yeast.

“Students who complete our program and pass the Biotechnician Assistant Credentialing Exam are certified biotechnician assistants,” Reedy says. “We are also expanding our Biotechnology program to include agricultural biotechnology.

There are 47 students in the program, and Reedy says it readies them for a future career in the field of scientific research by familiarizing them with all aspects of working in a science lab.

John Galyen is one of those students.

“The Biotech Program has really opened my eyes to possible career choices in science,” he says. “The program as a whole has helped me learn to conduct experiments properly as well as the variety of techniques that can be applied to various problems in science.”

West Port High School Biomedical Science Program coordinator, Blake Atkinson, says their curricula is provided by Project Lead The Way (PLTW), a nonprofit educational program that focuses its efforts on the fields of computer science, engineering and biomedical science.

“The curriculum is very hands-on and is computer based,” says Atkinson. “It is a three-year program that prepares students for virtually any job in the medical field. This is a very comprehensive, medically based program.”

Atkinson says that, like the Biotech Programs at North Marion, this magnet program also enables students to become certified biotechnician assistants.

“Ideally, students begin the program in the ninth grade and complete it in their junior year,” he says. “They can then pursue a variety of certifications in their senior year or take classes such as anatomy and physiology to better prepare for college. And another plus is that if they have their Biotechnician Assistant certification, they can possibly work in the research labs of whatever college they attend.”

West Port Senior Matthew Blaize, who has received his Biotech Assistant Certification, has taken full advantage of the program.

“The Biomedical Science Program sparked my love and interest in biomedical engineering,” he says. “It’s what taught me how to do research on my own. It’s what got me into the UF summer research program last year, and it’s the reason I’ve been accepted into the Biomedical Engineering Program at Vanderbilt University.”

Early College

Ginger Cruze, now also assistant principal of instruction, has been the coordinator of the Early College program at West Port High School for five years, and she’s just as excited about the program today as she was her first day on the job.

“We just graduated 76 seniors who received their Associate of Arts degrees along with their high school diploma,” she says. “I think that’s wonderful, and this program is such a great opportunity for our students. West Port is a satellite campus of the College of Central Florida, and we teach the same exact classes here as the students would be taught on the college campus… and one of the greatest parts of the program is that it is free. This makes a two-year college education available for every student regardless of their family income.”

Although the Early College program is open to juniors and seniors, Cruze says the school also offers an Early College Magnet program that is available for all area freshmen and sophomore students.

“Students are accepted into the Early College program if they have an unweighted GPA of 3.0 or higher, have no disciplinary problems, have good attendance records and have sufficient scores on the PERT, ACT or SAT tests,” says Cruze.

Trent Salmon graduated from West Port with his AA degree from the College of Central Florida through the Early College program. Trent was accepted into the University of Florida, University of South Florida, University of Central Florida, Florida State University and Florida Atlantic University. He will be attending the University of North Florida, where he was awarded a $4,000-per-semester scholarship.

“The Early College program gave me the opportunity to pursue higher education while still in high school,” he says. “The best thing about the program is that it provides students with the opportunity to challenge themselves through the rigorous coursework assigned by the teachers but does not allow for the students to be left behind or overwhelmed.”

Logistics and Supply Chain Management

“The community approached us with a need, and we are filling it,” says John Conway, internship coordinator at Marion Technical Institute (MTI). “Local companies such as R+L Carriers, Cheney Brothers, Kmart distribution and others approached us with a need for students capable of filling logistics positions. To meet their need, we created our Logistics and Supply Chain Management Academy.”

According to Conway, logistics involves getting the right product to the right place at the right time. For large companies that move a massive amount of products, logistics is a major concern, and local job opportunities should be numerous.

“We have a great academy instructor in logistics with business veteran David Ayala, we have a tremendous business-community need and we have had outstanding community support,” says Conway. “Following graduation from the program, students can become certified and enter the workforce at well-paying, entry-level positions or they can attend the College of Central Florida where they can pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree in logistics.”

Conway says students who decide to forego a degree can earn from $10 to $13 per hour at entry-level positions, and students with degrees can expect to earn $50,000 to $60,000 per year.

“We have some great local businesses who have a need, and with FedEx Ground coming to Ocala, job opportunities are only going to increase,” Conway says.

“The Logistics Academy has prepared me for my career in the military as a 92Y Unit Supply Specialist,” says graduating senior Frank Sanchez. “The Logistics program has given me a better understanding of all the processes, from receiving to shipping.”

Editor’s note: We made several attempts to contact each area public high school. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in our attempts.

Posted in Ocala Style Features

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