District to Add 8 More "Bay Academies" & Earn "For Next Generation Learning Community" Title

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Panama City - Next week Bay County will be officially designated as a "Ford Next Generation Learning Community" due in part to the development of Bay Academies, small, career-focused learning communities in local high schools. The Academies are a result of a partnership between the Gulf Coast Workforce Board, Gulf Coast State College and Bay District Schools. While eight new academies will launch next fall, five are already up and running at Arnold High School in Panama City Beach.

Chef Robin Downs was trained at Johnson and Wales and managed large hotels on the east coast. Today he is training the chefs of tomorrow as part of Arnold High School's Culinary Arts program, it's one of 5 Bay Academies at the school.

The Academies are a collaboration between businesses and teachers to provide the most relevant curriculum to best equip students post graduation. "They all culminate with an end of the course exam and certification," said Arnold High Principal Keith Bland.

Student Joshua Reyes knows he'll be at an advantage when he graduates. He is looking at a few different culinary programs in Atlanta. "Knowing that I have some of the qualifications like the certification, it will let me bypass some of the introductory work when I get to Atlanta."

Across campus students rehearse as part of the Performing Arts Academy. While what's happening on stage is impressive, there is much more to the program. "We try to prepare students, not just for the world of theater, but for their future in general. We teach them skills for interviewing, public speaking skills and of course we emphasize performance skills to prepare them for college and for careers in a multitude of fields," said instructor Kathleen McNulty. "It's taught me more skills than I can imagine, life skills, communication skills, more than you would expect from a typical drama program," said a student-performer.

The Academies were created out of both the economic development needs of the community, and the interests of students. "Project Lead The Way got started because there was a lack of students going for the STEM courses, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math courses. PLTW is a national organization we are apart of. It teaches thme a real world application that is out there in the market. At the end of the course they take the industry certification exam and we've had a great success rate with that," said Frank Schwandt.

To fully realize the vision of the Academies the district needs buy-in from local business professionals. "They know what they are talking about because they work with it every day so they are bringing their real life experiences and preparing students to be ready to work once they exit. It's a great way to get involved and it's working to build our community and make it even better," said Principal Bland.

Arnold also has academies for child development and business logistics.

"Launching Bay Academies" is the theme of this year's Workforce Education Summit. The luncheon is Wednesday, March 6th from 11:30 to 1:30 at Gulf coast State College's Student Union East Conference Center. It's free for businesses interested in learning how to become involved with Bay Academies.