Years before they pick a college, hundreds of Virginia Beach 8th-graders face an equally weighty decision for their future: What specialized public school academy will they attend the next four years?
The question drew hundreds of children barely in their teens to the Virginia Beach Convention Center on Thursday for Virginia Beach Schools’ annual Academy Night. The event is a showcase for a lineup of career-focused high school programs that now numbers eight with the recent addition of the Entrepreneurship and Business Academy at Kempsville.
To stand out at the expo, academies use displays, as well as students who are already in the program, to woo new recruits. Some dress up to draw attention. Outfits on display Thursday included the colorful cultural dress of Tallwood High’s Global Studies and World Language Academy and the white coats of future doctors and scientists at two other programs.
At Kempsville’s new program, academy coordinator Meghan Timlin, Principal William Harris and staff worked hard to convince students and parents they could get in on the ground floor. The academy is so new that some of its key features haven’t been built yet. That includes the MakerSpace, an on-site business incubator and classroom lab that is scheduled to open in fall 2017.
The other seven academies on display were:
- Global Studies and World Languages Academy at Tallwood High School
- Governor’s STEM & Technology Academy at Landstown High School
- Health Sciences Academy at Bayside High School
- International Baccalaureate Program at Princess Anne High School
- Legal Studies Academy at First Colonial High School
- Mathematics and Science Academy at Ocean Lakes High School
- Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Salem High School
The established academies used current students to sell the benefits of their programs to the 8th graders and their parents. Courtney Barr, a junior at the Legal Studies Academy, greeted visitors. She said she has enjoyed her three years there.
“I love it, because I know that I can always go to someone if I have trouble, if I need help with anything,” she said. “I know that everybody’s here for me, the teachers – they’ll help you out. It’s just a great school to go to.”
Barr told students the academy isn’t just for those interested in becoming a lawyer or detective. She said many of the skills it teaches, such as speech writing and public speaking, transfer to other careers.
Bethany Farnsworth, an 8th grader from Salem Middle School, said the Visual and Performing Arts Academy is at the top of her list because she enjoys music. But she said she’s keeping her options open and is looking to find an academy with the right atmosphere.
She described her ideal academy as “something fun, some place you feel at home and where you don’t have people judging you. Some place you can learn and feel good about it.”
All of the academies require an application and some have other prerequisites. Auditions are required for the Visual and Performing Arts Academy. To enter the Governor’s STEM and Technology Academy, students must complete Honors Algebra I in middle school and write an essay. An admissions exam is part of the application process for the International Baccalaureate Program.
Some of the requirements can make students and parents nervous. Judy Williams, the parent of a prospective academy student, worries about the pressure that could put on her daughter.
“I think it’s overwhelming sometimes,” she said. “When I went into high school it was 10th, 11th, and 12th, and now it starts a year earlier, and you’re trying to pick an academy based on what career you might want, but you don’t really know yet.”
Williams said she hopes her daughter will make a decision based on something she is interested in and that it won’t put too much of a burden on her.
“I don’t want her to be stressed out,” Williams said. “I don’t think high school should be that stressful – college is stressful enough.”
The academies will also each host their own information night at their home school for students and parents.
Applications for the academies opened on Thursday evening and will be accepted until Jan. 11. For more information, visit http://www.vbschools.com/curriculum/academyprog/.