Eighth-graders preparing for academies

District briefing students, parents on new academic model

Eighth-graders enrolled in the Jefferson City Public Schools are preparing to be the first class to enter the seven new academies currently under development for the fall of 2014.

Under the new paradigm, the seven academies include: Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; Human Services, Industrial Engineering and Technology, Health Services; Fine Arts and Communication; Business, Management and Technology; and Global Studies.

For years, the city’s middle school students have participated in “Missouri Connections,” a program that helps guide them toward a career prospect. Sponsored by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Division of Workforce Development, this online resource takes career planning to a higher level.

“It helps students explore their interests and better understand their learning styles. It also gives them suggestions about what careers they may be interested in or where their strengths lie,” said Myron Graber, director of secondary education for JCPS.

But under the new paradigm, they are creating a four-year educational plan for high school — picking and choosing the courses they hope to take.

“It’s very flexible,” said Graber.

Although the process for this year’s eighth-graders is a bit abbreviated compared with the classes to come, Graber said the students still will have all the information they need to make informed choices.

To share more information with parents about the academies, the district held two meetings in recent weeks and saw a turnout of about 400 participants.

“We had a great response. We had great questions,” Graber said. “We took them through what the academies are ... their main features and how students will select an academy. And then we opened it up for questions.”

Graber said the events — and there may be more to follow — served as opportunities to address some of the most-frequently asked questions parents have.

Graber said, mostly, they want to know if their child can change directions.

He’s been telling parents: “We want them to stay for a year. If, at the end of the year, they decide ‘This isn’t for me,’ then it’s OK to make a change.”

They also want more information about how their children will make the choice.

Graber said that process starts in January when every eighth-grader will sit down with a school counselor. Each teen will be asked to rank, in order, their academy preferences. Graber said that ranking system will provide the school district the flexibility it needs, in the event school personnel have to balance out the seven academies’ sizes.

The district is also planning one more major event — “Academy Jamboree” — on Nov. 25 to share with parents information about the seven academies.

“At the Jamboree, each of the seven will have a booth or table where they can learn more about each academy,” he said, noting that all the booths will be staffed with teachers and administrators, as well as representatives from the local business community.

Graber said: “They can go to every (booth) and ask: ‘If my son or daughter chooses this path, what will it be like? What kind of experiences can they expect? What are some of the courses offered?’”

He said by the end of February, school officials will assign the students to the various academies and students will then complete their pre-enrollment forms for the ninth grade.

All of the eighth-grade students will still attend the Simonsen 9th Grade Center starting fall of 2014.

“But — to the best we can, given the limitations of the building — it will represent the seven academies. There will be a designated area for each,” he said.

He said his office continues to receive requests for information from parents who couldn’t attend the earlier events.

“We might try to schedule a couple more presentations,” he suggested.

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