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The Golden Isles Career Academy (GICA) is all about developing our best and brightest students and providing employment opportunities to keep them in the Golden Isles or prepare them to go beyond. In an era where competition to get into college is greater, standards are higher, and skilled trade workers are in high demand, GICA provides opportunities for hands-on career training that traditional high schools cannot. The value of an alternative technical education experience is recognized by companies like GP Cellulose, Jared Manufacturing/PAR Systems and Sea Island who are supporting GICA through financial donations as well as internships of students. They see it as not only an investment in our community, but in the futures of their companies.
GICA is a public charter school created through a partnership between the GICA Board of Directors, the Glynn County Board of Education and Altamaha Technical College. Together these three entities provide hands-on career training for students, allowing juniors and seniors to earn technical college credit while in high school. Under the supervision of Executive Director Rick Townsend for the past two years, the Career Academy is slowly demonstrating that it is "the place to be." Townsend has worked diligently with Principal Senetra Haywood and the GICA faculty to provide the best curriculum and opportunities for the students. He has also immersed himself in the educational and business communities to create relationships that will grow Glynn County. The state of the art facility and equipment to which the students have access are simply amazing.
Agriculture Education Teacher and FFA Advisor Michael Stalvey explains, “The Career Academy allows students the opportunity to explore careers they feel they may be interested in. While here, students experience hands on learning utilizing a variety of teaching materials and industry specific tools and/or equipment. Our goal is to provide the students the opportunity to find their career and prepare for their lives moving forward. We strive to hold them accountable for skills such as attendance, responsibility and their ability to complete tasks individually and as a member of a team which allow them to leave the Career Academy as employable citizens regardless of their career choices.”
GICA courses are available to every student in the Glynn County School System and include fields such as Automotive Repair, Broadcast/Video, Culinary Arts, Criminal Justice, Cosmetology, Certified Nursing Assistant and Health Care, Graphic Design, Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC), and Robotics. Juniors and seniors who take ACELL courses such as college level English, Algebra and Psychology will earn college credit that will transfer to any regent university in the state, including schools such as Georgia Tech, University of Georgia and Georgia Southern for no cost. With more than 900 students in attendance during the year, the GICA graduation rate of 93.4% for students attending at least two semesters is impressive.
The real life experiences shared by the teachers and gained by internships and hands-on training are invaluable to students. GICA graduate Alisha Mikell explains, “Each teacher specializes in their department, relating their real life experience with the industry in their classroom. I enjoyed the atmosphere and I was introduced to many opportunities that have influenced my future career choices. The teachers make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success.” Her mother, Karen, a former GICA Board member, adds, “[GICA] helps to open doors in the outside world to the students while they’re still in high school. My daughter attended the Career Academy for two years. Every day, I watched her come home filled with excitement about what she learned. Many of the teachers helped to instill a passion for learning and helped her choose a career that will not only benefit her in the future but also help to instill the values she learned from the her teachers into her students as an Agricultural Education teacher.”
The internships offered through GICA are fantastic learning opportunities for students and provide businesses with a ready pool of skills and talent. h2o Creative Group recognizes the benefits of such a relationship. Anne Goodstein, Creative Director and Partner at h2o Creative Group, says "h2o's goal is to help interns of the Career Academy build a valuable portfolio and solid skills, in exposing them to a wide variety of clients, medias, and problematics. It's a win-win situation. Interns bring unleashed creativity, fresh ideas, and perspectives; we give them a chance to experience firsthand the world of ad agencies, client expectations, business ethic and etiquette, etc. Interning is the best way to bridge the gap between school and a great job." Other local businesses using GICA students as interns or apprentices have included FLETC, Jered/PAR, Gulfstream, Rainbow Drugstore, Murray Nellis Law, Family Practitioners of Glynn, Women’s Health Group of SE Georgia, and Manor and Laine.
The community as a whole can gain from the work done by students at the Career Academy. If we can provide the best career training possible in a state of the art facility with the best tools and equipment available, then facilitate hands-on work experience through internships with local businesses, it can lead to permanent jobs in the student’s chosen career field right here in the Golden Isles. In addition, there are some services provided by the students that the public can utilize right now: the school has a full-service salon that is open to the public, print and video marketing materials for non-profit organizations or other agencies can be created by students. The Jekyll Island Club’s restaurants are even serving lettuce grown using hydroponic techniques by the agriculture students.
Competition is another way GICA teachers have engaged students. Graphic Design student Seresa Pearce’s entry in the awareness of Sex Trafficking poster contest received first place in the state of Georgia in the Spanish poster category. Not only did she receive recognition and a cash prize, her poster is displayed on the walls of the Atlanta airport as part of a national campaign. Collision Repair student Christopher Brown finished first in the state and 11th in the nation in the SkillsUSA competitions. He earned scholarships and is currently attending WyoTech for a career in Collision Repair. Encouraging competition is not only a way of building confidence, it’s just another way GICA is growing productive students and proving their value in the “real world.”
Former GICA student Doug Jones says that the Career Academy gave him “some of the most exciting, fun and rewarding experiences I’ve had while in high school.” He was able to design, build and program a fully functional robot; joined an animation team to create a 3D animation of a character depicting a defibrillator for a non-profit company; and even got to act in a PSA film on distracted driving. What a range! He sums up his experience by saying, “The thing I liked best about GICA was that I was able to immediately apply what I learned in class to solve real world problems. GICA offers a wide range of great opportunities that students shouldn’t pass up.”
Today’s students are steered toward their career paths as early as middle school. A closer look at what GICA has to offer can show students a broad range of career paths for which they can begin training while still in high school. For more information about GICA, visit their website at www.gica.us or request a personal tour by contacting Rick Townsend by phone at 280-4000 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. GICA is meeting its mission to ensure a viable 21st century workforce for Glynn County and the amazing things they’re doing there just might surprise you.