How STEM-Related Career Academies Are Exciting Tampa Bay Students

Posted on: May 7, 2010

Career academies have been making an impact in school systems across the country for the past 35 years. With a focus on turning large high schools into smaller more focused learning environments, these academies have built a bridge for students transitioning from high school to postsecondary education or vocational careers.

Building on that success, Helios Education Foundation is working with the Hillsborough Education Foundation and the Hillsborough County Public School system in Tampa Bay to help make students college ready and to prepare them for a career in a highly-technical field.

"Taking the career academies model and building a relevant, interconnected program between middle school and high school will increase students' understanding of how their classroom learning is connected to and can be applied in the real world," said Helios Education Foundation Vice President of Programs for Florida, Stacy Carlson. "We are hopeful that this model will be successful in raising students' academic achievement as well as their engagement in STEM education and careers."

Sometimes referred to as "a school within a school," career academies are organized around themes such as technology, food services, business and finance and others. Students take classes together, are often paired with the same group of teachers over time, follow an academic and career-oriented curriculum and they participate in internships and other career-related experiences outside of the classroom.

In Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough Education Foundation and Hillsborough County Public School system are implementing the Transitional Success through STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Academies project in conjunction with a $431,400 investment from Helios. The initiative is preparing students for success during the critical transition years from middle school to high school.

"Thanks to Helios we can now create a clear ‘line of sight' for middle and high school students in STEM," says Bill Hoffman, President of the Hillsborough Education Foundation. "This will help prepare them for the critical technical jobs which our business partners tell us they need talent for."

The program is expected to benefit 15,000 students ages 11 through 18 enrolled at five middle school STEM institutes - Buchanan, Greco, Marshall, Shields and Walker - which all feed career academies at Strawberry Crest, Gaither, King, Lennard and Sickles high schools in Hillsborough County.

The initiative will be implemented over 30 months and includes a series of new curricula that will engage and challenge students as they transition through the STEM institutes. This process includes developing comprehensive curricula guides and providing professional development training to teachers.

At the same time, district teachers will have professional development opportunities through "train the trainer" components of the program and they will participate in or have access to teacher and administrator teams at the middle school and high school sites.

Helios' investment is also supporting Hillsborough Education Foundation's newest program, the SUCCESS Fund. This program assists students with the financial obstacles associated with enrollment in career academies, such as specialized tools, regional competitions and student professional groups.

Approximately 47 percent of students enrolled in the academies have financial need, making it difficult for them to afford the additional expenses of their education.

The Transitional Success through STEM Academies program is building a bridge in Hillsborough County for middle school and high school students. This partnership is promoting strategies that increase curriculum rigor and relevance and emphasize STEM education. But, this initiative is ultimately creating a pipeline of highly-skilled, highly-trained students who will be ready for a successful future.

Category: College and Career Readiness

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