Alachua County, home to the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College, is known as an educational hub in the sunshine state. Unknown to many, however, are the vast number of academic opportunities available to students even before their undergrad and graduate school years.
Students in the Alachua County Public School system have the option to enroll in college and career preparatory courses at several different high schools in the area, including Buchholz, Eastside, Gainesville, Loften, and Santa Fe High Schools. There are thirteen career academies offered to high school students through the Career and Technical Education Department in Alachua County alone, providing students the opportunity to begin an early pursuit of careers in graphic design, engineering, criminal justice, nursing, and countless others.
The Academy of Health Professions at Gainesville High School was the first Career and Technical Education program in the county. The director, Janine Plavac, explained how students interested in healthcare can achieve industry certifications in various fields before they graduate 12th grade.
“If you are pursuing any field in healthcare – nursing, physical therapy, speech pathology, etc. – this gives you an added benefit when you are making applications to colleges, and it also allows you to earn a living and get practical experience while you’re going to school,” Plavac said. “We also have a very close relationship with our healthcare community from North Florida Regional Medical Center to Shands to Santa Fe Community College, and we utilize all of the business partners that are in healthcare – a huge industry here in Gainesville – to allow our students to do their clinical rotations in a variety of healthcare settings. It is a win-win situation all around.”
The program at Gainesville High School takes in a maximum of about 55 students each year and currently has an estimated 175 students. Students take a core subject each year through 11th-grade and declare what they want to specifically pursue when they are seniors.
In addition to its Academy of Health Professions, Gainesville High School also has an Academy of Future Teachers through which students learn about educational technologies and get the opportunity to participate in internships at local elementary and middle schools. Many schools offer several distinct programs, including Santa Fe High School, Buchholz High School, and Loften High School. Loften’s Professional Academies Magnet, for example, consists of the Academy of Automotive Technology, the Academy of Design and Technology, the Academy of Early Childhood Education and the Academy of Fire and Emergency Medical Services.
If none of these seems fitting for your child, Eastside High School also has an Institute of Culinary Arts. There, students develop skills in kitchen management, kitchen safety, ice carving, and grillwork and operate the Hungry Ram Café and Restaurant.
For students interested in business, Buchholz High School has an Academy of Finance. Through coursework and hands-on experience at the Bobcat Branch, an official branch of the Florida Credit Union on campus, students learn about computer technology, accounting, financial planning and real estate investments.
With these many options, rising ninth-grade students can find the schools that will best suit them and best provide solid foundations for their professional interests.
“Career and Technical Education programs offer so many opportunities for students,” said Shannon Ritter, a program specialist for career and technical education in Alachua County. “In many of the programs, students can earn college credits and industry certifications at no cost to them or their parents while still in high school. They are being prepared for both college and careers and really getting a great jump start to a very bright future.”
By Haley Clement