Increasing enrollment in the Albemarle County Public Schools’ specialization programs remains a goal for school officials — and to do that, they’re reaching out to more parents.

The division boasts four specialization programs, which tailor to students’ interests, such as the Math, Engineering and Science Academy at Albemarle High, the Health & Medical Sciences Academy at Monticello High and the  Environmental Studies Academy at Western Albemarle. Center I, located in Seminole Place near Stonefield, is the division’s newest career development program.

The Highlights

  • The specialization programs are MESA, HMSA, ESA, Center I
  • Programs’ requirements and deadline to apply
  • Diversifying the programs remain a concern

The application deadline for MESA, HMSA an ESA  is Jan. 24. Center I doesn’t have a deadline or requirements.

MESA aims at preparing engineers, researchers, inventors and entrepreneurs. ESA’s main focuses include environmental science, research, environmental literature, law and policy, sustainability, land management and natural resources.

HMSA aims at preparing students for the workforce. Among other pathways, its industry certification pathways are emergency medical technician, surgical technologists and certified nurse assistants.

Developing strategies to reach out to parents and students is a critical move for the county. For instance, nearly 80% of the 42 students at Center I this academic year identify as white.

Of the remainder, none of the students is Latino. But in the division as a whole, 13% of students are Latino. The Latino student population has grown from 601 in 2005 to 1,844 in 2018, according to division records.

In the previous academic year, ⅓ of the 21 students who took part in the pilot program were nonwhite students, the division said.

What are the requirements?

MESA requires students to complete Algebra I or a higher math course.

Phil Giaramita, county schools spokesman, said MESA has two entry points.

Students are eligible to apply in the eighth grade and start the program as freshmen. The other option is to apply as sophomores this year and start the program their junior year, he said.

Interested applicants are required to submit three letters of recommendation from their eighth grade math and science teachers and from either their seventh grade math or science teacher. Providing a letter of recommendation from someone who has worked with them also is an option.

“For HMSA and ESA, three letters of recommendation are needed — from a student’s eighth grade math and science teachers and from someone who has worked with the student in another capacity,” Giaramita added.

Musician Jehki Grooms, a senior at Albemarle Public Schools, is among 42 students at Center I. Credit: Credit: Mike Kropf/ Dexter Auction

Center I admitted seniors this year, but it will expand to sophomores and juniors next year. Seniors work on capstone projects and can enroll in English and government dual credit courses. Programs tailored to sophomores and juniors via Center I’s Information Communications Technology Academy include cybersecurity, game design and media communications.

Promoting Center I

Michael Craddock, Center I’s director, said before the winter break that 700 students from Western and Albemarle high schools took part in an informational session about Center I. He hosted open houses for parents and hopes to host additional ones on Jan. 16 and 22 and Feb. 6.

Craddock added that he’s trying different avenues to make people aware of Center I. He attended a meeting at Albemarle High School’s Latinx Club to reach out to the Latino community and plans to do the same at the Monticello High School Latino community.

Reaching out to more parents could bring a more diverse pool of students. MESA has been criticized for a lack of diversity after an equity report revealed that 1% of Black students took part in the 8-year-old program. Latino students accounted for 4% in the same program, the report also stated.

The same strategies the county is trying for Center I can be used at the other academies to boost students’ participation from all backgrounds, school officials have said.

“A lot of people didn’t hear about [Center I]” Craddock said. “That’s the challenge I’m trying to overcome.”

Billy Jean Louis joined Dexter Auction as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.