Fewer than 100 spots remain in the new system of specialized high school programs kicking off this fall in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Officials expect the remaining spots in the freshman academies to fill up quickly when the district’s official open enrollment begins Monday.
“I expect those programs are going to fill up in a couple of days,” said Verna Martin, associate director of the district’s secondary schools. “Then we’ll start a waiting list.”
Beginning this fall, five district high schools will offer six dedicated academies: engineering at Capitol Hill, information technology at Oklahoma Centennial, finance at John Marshall, hospitality at Star Spencer and both engineering and health sciences at Northeast.
Students will be able to attend any of the academies beginning with the freshman class of 2012-13.
As that class ages, the program will expand. The academies are designed to prepare students for specific careers.
Applications have been available for a few months, but interest was renewed last month when the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority decided to allow academy students to ride city buses for free, even for nonschool activities.
Metro Transit and Oklahoma City Public Schools buses will work together to get students from their home schools to the academies, so families don’t have to worry about how students will get to and from school.
“They’re very excited that the transportation is being provided,” Martin said.
Martin said she witnessed how an academic focus can change a school.
She was principal of Northeast when it began focusing on engineering and health sciences.
“Now students are competing in robotics competitions. They’re engaging with the curriculum. They’re doing integrated learning, so they’re learning about engineering in their English, language and math classes,” she said.
“I have seen the difference that having that program in that school has made for those students.”
At John Marshall High School, construction workers are installing wiring and a security system at a new branch of Tinker Federal Credit Union. It will be part of the new finance academy there.
For this year, freshmen will be too young to work there; only seniors will have that opportunity.
In the spring, students will offer free tax help to the community.
Excitement about the program is swelling as administrators, community volunteers and teachers work out details of the first year, Principal Aspasia Carlson said.
Students are getting excited, too. They will be able to graduate and move on to college or the workforce with training and preparation in a field that interests them.
“It’s really going to give them an opportunity to be knowledgeable and make good decisions for themselves and their families,” Carlson said.
“ ... It’s just going to really make the difference between theoretical learning and real, hands-on experience.”