You wouldn’t think that at a time of 3.8 percent unemployment in the country and close to that in Flagler, anyone would have much of a problem finding work. But the Flagler County school district’s flagship programs aren’t pegged so much to the economy, whose strengths will always fluctuate, but to the recession-proof potential of its students, to exploring their trade and professional ambitions, to making their paths from classrooms to careers as interesting and seamless as possible.
Some 2,300 Flagler County students–nearly 20 percent of the district’s total–no longer come to nine schools and the district’s technical institute just to attend class, participate in a few extracurriculars then go home. From elementary school on, their day is at least partly immersed in career-type education that mirrors the kind of work they might be doing after graduation.
Surely you’ve heard by now of the district’s flagship programs, the 21 distinct classroom-to-career curriculums spread out between the schools and that have been acting like magnets to students’ interests, improving the district’s graduation rate, and drawing the participation and financial backing of dozens of local, private companies. Those companies see in those flagships a farm system for their future employees.
The Flagler County Education Foundation every two weeks organizes a public tour of some of those flagships. Tomorrow it’ll take a group to Indian TRails Middle School to visit the agriculture and robotics programs there. In two weeks, it’ll be a trip to Matanzas High’s construction, law and banking flagships. (The construction program at Matanzas just built an entire courtroom at the school, to be used by the law and justice flagship. A public ribbon-cutting to mark that milestone is scheduled for April 24 at 10:30 a.m. there.)
Education Foundation tours have taken residents and company representatives to Flagler Palm Coast High School’s aerospace, teaching, i3 and fire academies, to Bunnell’s green technologies program, Wadsworth’s focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), Rymfire’s medical and fitness flagship, and so on. Next year FPC will add a medical technology flagship in association with AdventHealth, and Matanzas will add an information technology flagship in association with Coastal Cloud, the company in the Hammock.
Once a year for the past five years, the district has held a classroom-to-career “symposium” to showcase its flagships by gathering students from most of them in one place, inviting residents and businesses to bask in their successes and speak to the students. “It’s really to have the community interact with our students,” Superintendent Jim tager said. “We have ambassadors at our schools now, something we rolled out last year, so we think our best sales people, or the people to advertise the best things in our schools are our students.”
Inspiring career choices one flagship at a time.
That’s what took place at FPC last week, where students like Lillian Guidry spoke about her intention of becoming a physician’s assistant through work she’s doing at Flagler Technical Institute and John Overton, the ever-present face of flagships, spoke of his evolution through FPC’s fire academy: he’d initially thought he’d be a cop. He now wants to be a firefighter, and seems to have his eyes set on being chief somewhere near before long.
Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland described the district as a leader in the state and the country–and internationally, when its problem-solver program is take into account. “In our innovation district,” she said of the city’s enterprise zone in Town center, where companies get tax breaks to develop in the area, “we are collaborating with stakeholders that could bring about some jobs right here in our downtown. The school district is a key component of that. Without them, without the success of our school district and its flagship program, this would not be achievable.”
Student “ambassadors” sat at dozens of catered tables with school staff and members of the business community in one of FPC’s gym last Thursday, the whole thing catered by the school’s culinary program. All but the croissants–the chicken salad, the other salad, the desserts: all homemade, as their teacher, Lorie Savoca, put it. Ironically, it’s not itself a flagship: the district’s culinary flagship is at Matanzas. But FPC’s program participants like Michael Akialis and Maddison Bergne (who happens to be an i3 student, therefore in a flagship in her own right) spoke as if it were, and expect their career paths to be facilitated just as much as if they were in a flagship.
“The students learn all aspects of culinary as you can imagine, from the back of the house to the front of the house,” Savoca said. “Almost all of my students are employed in restaurants throughout Flagler County. A lot of them do go on to careers in culinary. My third-year culinary, they also get an opportunity to take the serve-safe manager’s test, which is a nationally recognized program.” The test makes students more employable.
Akialis, a junior, is dually-enrolled at FPC and Daytona State. He comes to school just to attend the culinary classes. He works about 30 hours at Whaam Burger in Flagler Beach as an assistant manager. “Whatever I want to do is going to be running a business,” he said, possibly a restaurant but not necessarily, he said.
Business and classroom interact in different ways, not always through flagships. Ekatereena Kouzina, a senior in the IB program who just got accepted at seven colleges–the IB is not officially a flagship, but the superintendent considers it to be one–did a seven-month internship at Coastal Cloud. It was key to her career path, redirecting her into a non-profit direction. “I realized I have pretty good business skills, I like talking to people, I enjoy making presentations, I enjoy meeting with people,” she said, “and my soft skills definitely improved a lot.” Meaning “speaking, handshaking, they really prepared me for the business world.” Her heart remains in education, so whatever she does will somehow be wrapped in that through business.
School Board member Andy Dance was listening to students describing their experiences when he was asked why should a retired person somewhere in Palm Coast’s W Section care about any of this. “I think it has an impact on the standard of living within Palm Coast,” Dance said. “Kids being able to work in the community where they graduated and where they live, pride in the community. And I think a better understanding for everyone benefits the community, so they see what the district is doing and that there’s support within the community.”
The day’s event, as much of the marketing of flagship programs, is the work of the Flagler Education Foundation and its current executive director, Joe Rizzo, the former restaurant owner turned occasional preacher. “I think the most important part about this is,” he said, “any time we can show community members, business partners and kids that we are creating that network that is needed to have a striving community, it allows us to just become stronger with what we do, whether it’s economic development, making sure kids are career-ready or college-ready. But you know, the preparedness and the buy-in that these kids get from seeing community members and seeing people investing in them, that’s probably the biggest take-away from things like this.”