Fourteen-year-old Sharrell Bailey wouldn't be starting ninth grade at Oak Ridge High School on Monday if it weren't for the new Junior Achievement Academy opening there.
The magnet program, which will focus on leadership and entrepreneurship, is Junior Achievement's first foray into creating a school-based academy program, and one local officials hope will be a model.
"We really want to restore Oak Ridge to being the pre-eminent high school in Orange County, as it was in the '50s," said Craig Polejes, president of Junior Achievement of Central Florida. Underscoring that point, former Orange County mayor Richard Crotty and former Orlando mayor Glenda Hood, both of whom attended Oak Ridge, have helped raise money for the academy.
At a ceremony Friday attended by local businesspeople, parents and school officials, freshmen who will make up the programs' first class said they have sky-high expectations.
"This is an opportunity of a lifetime," said Sharrell, who lives in the Evans High zone but chose to attend Oak Ridge to be part of the magnet. She was drawn by the chance to participate in internships, go on field trips and use an iPad in class.
Each of the 120 students in the academy's first class will be issued an iPad preloaded with their textbooks and about 30 apps they will use as part of their course work.
"They will have more resources than at any private school," Polejes said.
The students will attend core classes together, and the curricula has been adjusted to work in business concepts. For example, Henry Ford and Bill Gates will be covered in history classes, and science courses will focus on real-world applications, Polejes said.
Students will also be paired with mentors and will tap into Junior Achievement, a national organization focused on educating young people about business, economics and free enterprise.
Oak Ridge Principal Leigh Ann Bradshaw said that about 60 of the academy's students live in other high school zones.
To participate in the academy, students must have a grade point average of at least 2.5 and be performing on grade level.
Arthur L. Johnson II said his daughter, Jazmin, would have attended Orlando Science School, a charter school, if the Junior Achievement Academy hadn't been opening.
He said the honors and Advanced Placement curriculum, the focus on entrepreneurship and the internship opportunities won the family over. He was also convinced that the school is on an upward trend – earning a C grade from the state after years of Ds and Fs.
"We're in a competitive environment in public education today," said School Board Chairman Bill Sublette. "We intend to compete."
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