Shannon Ritter: Getting a jump on the future

Published: Monday, January 7, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 7, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Sarah Hall's future is incredibly bright.

Last year, Sarah graduated from Gainesville High School's Academy of Health Professions, a career magnet program for students who want to work in the health care field. Thanks to that program she graduated with both a high school diploma and state certification as a nursing assistant, which she'll be able to put to good use when she goes to work next summer.

She also left high school with six college credits under her belt, which means she'll need less time and money to graduate from the nursing program at Florida International University, where she is currently enrolled as an honors student. Best of all, she found herself well-prepared for the rigors of her college classes.

"So far college has been a piece of cake," she said recently. "I already know a lot of the content while the other students are having to start from scratch."

Sarah's story highlights the benefits of Alachua County's extensive career and technical magnet programs. More than 1,000 local high school students are getting a head start on their futures through one of the district's career academies. They're learning to care for livestock, run a business and respond to medical emergencies. They're learning to take care of children, prepare restaurant dishes and build homes. Whatever their area of interest, these students are developing highly marketable job skills while working toward their high school diplomas.

Career education in Alachua County is not what many of us remember when we were in school. Most of Alachua County's magnet program students are headed for college once they graduate, and many of them will have earned college credits and/or scholarships in addition to their high school diplomas.

Hands-on, practical learning activities are a big part of each career academy's curriculum, both in the classroom and in the community. Thanks to partnerships with local businesses, Alachua County students are able to work in their chosen field during the school year or over the summer, gaining valuable experience that looks very good on a job or college application. And like Sarah, many students are also able to earn certification in their chosen field while they're still in high school, meaning they can move straight into the workplace even while working toward a college degree.

Parents and students will have an opportunity to learn more about the many educational opportunities available in Alachua County during the district's upcoming Career Academy Forum. The forum will be held at Buchholz High School on Thursday, Jan. 10, from 7 to 8 p.m. Representatives from all of the career academies will be at the forum with displays and information about their programs.

The academies will also hold open houses between mid-January and early February so that students and their families can visit in person. A full schedule and a description of all the academies are available on the district's Web site at or by calling the Department of Career and Technical Education at 955-7600.

As incoming high school students and their parents consider whether a career academy magnet is the right choice, Sarah Hall has an excellent piece of advice: "It's never too soon to think about what you want to do with the rest of your life."

Shannon Ritter is director of Career and Technical Education for Alachua County public schools.

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