Law and Emergency Services ... TV Production ... Teaching ... Agriscience ... Business ... Engineering. Clay County's Academy Program Lets High School Students Test out Their Track

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Byline: BETH REESE CRAVEY

Jon Hall has his post-high school life all planned out.

An 11th-grader in Clay High's Future Educators Academy, he will head into the Navy after graduation and then on to teaching. He wants to be a high school Naval ROTC instructor.

"I can relate to them," he said.

The Educators Academy has given him "hands on" experience in the ways young people's minds work and how to help them learn, he said.

When she started ninth grade in the Educators Academy in 2006, Megan Elunck also had her career planned.

She knew she wanted to be a teacher and even what age group she wanted to teach - third grade. Now in the 10th grade, she still wants to be a teacher, but has adjusted her target to more easily focused sixth graders.

"Now I think I want to teach a little higher," she said.

Helping high schoolers crystalize whether or not their preferred careers are right for them is the founding principle behind the Clay County school district's academy program.

Through team teaching, small work groups, integrated curriculum and internships, academies focus students on particular career tracks, equipping them with the specific skills needed in that field or to continue that track at the college level. Students get a taste of a career option's workday realities and can make a more informed decision about whether that field is appropriate for them, district officials said.

By 2004, Clay had five academies operating at various high schools and opened three more last year. An additional three are in place for the 2007-08 school year, two of which bring the school-within-a-school concept to Keystone Heights Junior-Senior High for the first time.

Keystone Heights will offer the Academy of Agriscience and the Academy of Teacher Education. The other new academy, another agriscience program, will be at Middleburg High. Also new is a law component for the Academy of Law and Emergency Services at Clay High.

The expansions stem from $120,000 in state grants the school district received last year to study innovative high school academies in place at three other Florida school districts, said Paul Parker, Clay's director of career and technical education.

"We're doing several things to strengthen the academies and make them better," he said.

But the district is expanding the programs slowly, taking its time planning and adding new classes gradually.

"We're taking baby steps. They're more likely to be successful," he said.

At the request of parents, the district is also studying the prospect of providing bus transportation for academy students. Currently, parents have to provide transportation, which can be problematic if they do not live in the attendance zone of the school that houses their child's preferred academy.

Meanwhile, Parker hopes to get additional state grants next year to help implement more academy improvements. And he encourages area employers to support the academies by serving on advisory committees, mentoring students, donating equipment or funding or talking to groups of students about the workplace.

"We're trying to strengthen the partnership between business and education," he said. …