In July 2007, my family and I relocated to Richmond Hill from South Florida. After five back to back hurricanes that literally nearly took our lives, we were done with Florida and relocated to Richmond Hill, primarily for its excellent educational reputation and small town charm. I am the mother of three children in the school system, a local real estate agent and the advocacy coordinator for the Bryan County arm of Atlantic Area Court Appointed Special Advocates CASA, Inc. My involvement in advocating for our children who find themselves in state care due to experiencing the life-shattering affects of child abuse and neglect is what connected me with Sean Register of the Development Authority of Bryan County, and his interest in exploring the benefits of Career Academy alternatives in education. Many of the children CASA advocates for are older kids, who tragically will age out of the system and be on their own at 18, needing employable skills to be able to make it in life without repeating the cycle from which they escaped.
I grew up in a tiny coastal fishing community on the coast of Maine, and was familiar with vocational education, as that was the school path most of my male peers chose, giving them a career to fall back on if the fishing or paper industries hit hard times. Five school districts in Midcoast Maine banded together to create a regional vocation high school, where students attended their home schools a half day, then went to Vo-Tech for the other half, learning a trade. When I was coming up through the system ages ago, the combined high school population was approximately 1,500 students, grades 9 through 12.
Today it’s grown a tad, to about 1,675. Their Vo-tech program has been in place for over 30 years, keeping pace with the economic demands of the community, and is a big reason why only nine of 373 seniors in the combined five community school districts failed to graduate in the 2007-2008 school year.
It’s made a big difference in educational accomplishment in that little rural area, and I believe it would here too.
I joined the Richmond Hill delegation that took the Golden Isles Career Academy tour on May 18. Without a doubt, it proved to be exciting and made all of us on the trip dream of the possibilities and opportunities a similar institution could bring to Bryan County children and to the local economy. Skilled local workforces attract businesses looking to relocate. We could create that here! I invite you to take an online tour of the Academy yourself by watching their video at www.gica.us.
Georgia has 113 operational charter schools, many of which are career academy institutions that help students complete their high school diplomas, earn college credits and learn truly employable skills needed to successfully compete in today’s workforce upon graduation.
Results from existing career academies in Georgia show that they successfully provide quality educational opportunities that move students to postsecondary education and into career pathways that offer advancement and growth potential. The Career Academies address both the needs of youth and of their communities, having a long-term positive effect on high school graduation rates, community economic development, and help create a skilled workforce using the latest technology in an environment conducive to learning, bringing relevance to education to many youth not geared for the traditional educational model.
Kids that don’t see a benefit to school don’t stick with it; that’s a fact. A career alternative would give them an undeniable reason to not only be present, but to participate.
Those of us who toured the Golden Isles Career Academy in Brunswick were undoubtedly impressed with the program and clearly saw both the educational and economic opportunities it brings to the area. We also were conscious of the incredible investment required to bring such a school to Bryan County, particularly in these tough economic times.
Funding a Career Academy will take a vested collaborative effort on the part of our community leaders, government, educational system, citizenry and our area businesses.
I’m aware that a new SPLOST initiative might be a curse word to many residents these days, but we would not have to raise all the funding ourselves. It has come to our attention that the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) has received an additional $9 million in grant funds in the FY 2011 state budget signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
These funds will be made available to Georgia school districts to create new or expand/enhance their Career Academies. The fourth year of applications for the Georgia Career Academies Project grant is about to begin, and we could be one of the recipients, being awarded up to $3.1 million dollars.
Additional grants for Career Academies are available every year through the Dept. of Education. Grants, unlike loans, do not need to be paid back. It’s money we already paid in our taxes, coming back to the community.
I am hopeful that this is a funding opportunity that Bryan County Schools will explore and will consider opening up a community dialog about the possibility for a Bryan Career Academy.
Matching, in-kind, or leveraged funds and resources are encouraged but are not required. However, those of us present on the GICA tour believe matching funds, valued services, and in-kind contributions are at the ready, as the business community has been a tremendous contributor to the GICA program.
I believe this is an avenue Bryan County Schools, the business community, and our citizens should work together to explore and bring to fruition. Let’s find a way to bring this valuable educational alternative to the students of Bryan County not likely to go on to a four year college, and also provide a leg up on college level work to those who are already degree bound. Help them build that bridge to a bright future, a solid career, and a way to be a positive, contributing adult in our communities for years to come.
Tavio is a proponent of a career academy in Bryan County. Liberty County is also establishing a career academy.