It’s not your granddad’s classroom. And it probably isn’t the kind of classroom you grew up in either.
In a leaner, meaner job market where competition spans well beyond international borders, education is spanning well beyond the classroom walls of our forefathers.
This bi-weekly series looks at how Duval County is working to prepare the next generation for what's ahead by forging new frontiers in education.
New Dual-Enrollment Program
On a recent Friday afternoon, Anthony DellaCrosse tests out the lesson he has in store for his new class.
Behind the Terry Parker High School building, he stands with an iPad in hand. Hovering near him is an AR quadricopter drone, about the size of a pizza box.
“I’m going to turn it because there is a video camera on there and I’m going to point the camera at us right now,” he tells a group of faculty and school officials watching from a careful distance.
A few other curious teachers passing by, stop and stare at the small, unmanned aircraft whizzing back and forth.
At one point, and turns its lens at the group. A red light flashes.
“And it just took a picture,” DellaCrosse said.
This is the type of lesson in store for the two dozen JROTC students who will be in his Unmanned Aircraft Systems class this semester.
The class is part of the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University dual-enrollment program. It’s a literal lesson in rocket science, said Gail Cullum, director of the program in Duval County.
“We shoot rockets. We build them. We use drones. You’re going to have a lot of project-based learning,” she said.
And it’s one the newest efforts by the district to usher in a brave new world of learning for a brave new world of work. Duval Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in order to prepare students for that world, education needs to span far beyond the classroom.
“I really think 11th and 12th grade should be radically different than it is now,” he said. “I don’t think students should be spending 11th and 12th grade in a classroom. I think 11th and 12th grade should be spent in dual-enrollment, internships and industry certification linked to an internship.
The landscape of learning is already shifting largely in the district.
In 2012, there were about 870 industry certification exams passed in the Duval County. By 2013, more than 1600 industry certification exams were passed. And this year, the district has reached that number in the first semester alone, according to district officials.
“We're slowly, I believe, transforming that 11th and 12th grade experiences through these partnerships and we're only looking to expand it as we move forward,” Vitti said.
The Embry-Riddle program is one of the latest in that effort. School officials first piloted the program at Paxon School for Advanced Studies back in August.
Now, 13 different schools in the district are offering at least one Embry-Riddle course to Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corp students and more than 1,200 juniors and seniors are enrolled. And that number is expected to grow by next year, school officials said.
The top-ranked aeronautical university has been offering high school students courses in military history and unmanned aircraft systems through it’s dual-enrollment program for nearly a decade, beginning with Okaloosa County. Now, 29 schools across Florida offer the program.
Duval County is among the newest district to get on board, but it also offers it at more schools than any other district. And that is due in large part to a push by Larry Roziers, Executive Director of Special Programs at JROTC.
Roziers said he envisioned a program that would keep students in the JROTC program engaged.
“We were noticing that a lot of our young people, after we got to our third stage of JROTC, they were looking for a weighted course and so since they couldn’t find a weighted course that would fit into their schedule they were opting to get out of JROTC and so we needed to figure out something, some mechanism that would attract our young people to complete the program,” he said.
Roziers said the district approached University of North Florida, University of Florida and Embry-Riddle about a program that would work. Ultimately, the district reached a deal with Embry-Riddle.
“And that’s where we started to have negotiations with Embry-Riddle on how could we craft a program and pilot this program at one of our high schools which was going to be Paxon,” Roziers said.
Duval County has been the only district in the state so far to form a partnership between JROTC and the university’s dual-enrollment program. Unlike many other advanced placement or dual-enrollment courses, the aeronautics program does not have a minimum GPA requirement, which opens the door to hundreds more students in the district.
It also could mean filling thousands of positions in specialized fields such as engineering in a job market that demands it.
The whole point of the program is to empower kids to pursue STEM-based careers, said Cullum, who heads it.
“Where are the jobs? There’s a pilot shortage. There’s an air traffic control shortage. There’s a huge engineering shortage,” Cullum said.
In fact, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that engineering and architecture field will add more than 250,000 new jobs — or 10 percent — by 2020. Cullum said the aim of the program is to make sure students are ready for them.
“We’re not kidding around,” she said. “They’re going to learn how to learn how to program. His drone came with an iPad and that’s empowerment — a high school student learning how to do real programming that operates a drone at 17? Now, they have that sense that they can do anything.”
You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.