Students entering grades 6 through 10 in the 2021 – 2022 school year have the opportunity to begin thinking about their future now, especially if they want to attend a specialized school or career academy. Open enrollment for both runs from Nov. 10 through Jan. 12.

Thirty of the county’s career academies have been recognized nationally by the National Career Academy Coalition as either model or certified academies, meaning they meet certain standards in areas like teaching and learning, student performance and employer involvement.  The district has the second-highest total in the U.S. among school districts recognized by NCAC.

“Academies prepare students for college and careers by providing experiential learning opportunities, hands-on instruction, dual enrollment credits and industry-recognized credentials,” said Rachel Pleasant, director of communications for Polk County Public Schools.

Some academies have been operating for more than 20 years, such as Lake Gibson’s Health Science Academy and Bartow’s Medical and Fire Academy. The district updates curricula and standards to stay up to date with current practices.

Others are relatively new, including the Water Utility Academy at Lake Region High, the last one added.

In addition to learning specialized skills and potentially earning certifications that they can use in future careers, these academies help students build relationships with college and career professionals, giving them a support network to begin their careers after high school.

Most graduates of career academies go to work in their fields. For instance, a graduate of Bartow High School’s criminal justice program who took part in the Police Explorers’ program is now a public safety aide ready to begin classes at the Police Academy.

Several medical academy students earned their certified nursing assistant certification and started work in area hospitals and clinics. And a graduate of the Lake Region iMAGination Academy is working for Polk County Public Schools in the Public Relations department.

“We are proud of the hard work and commitment of our teachers, staff and partners who have made our academies such a resounding success,” said Steven Cochran, PCPS’ senior director of workforce education. “These programs make a vital difference for the future of Polk County students.”

“Specialized programs like Polk County’s Career Academies uniquely equip students with professional and technical skills,” said Sean Malott, President & CEO of the Central Florida Development Council. “Preparing young people to be college and/or career ready.”

What You Need to Know

Open enrollment will take place from Nov. 10 to Jan. 12. Only incoming 6th through 10th-grade students who are not zoned for the school where the academy is located or who live outside the district have to apply. Some academies have waiting lists.

Students who are in the zone should contact their current school’s guidance department; they should have filled out course requests when the guidance counselors visited their feeder school.

Those already in a Career Academy do not need to reapply. And 11th and 12th-graders should not apply because they do not have enough time to complete the course requirements.

During open enrollment, students can also apply to International Baccalaureate, Cambridge AICE, choice schools, magnet schools and pre-academies.

Students can apply to only one academy but once they are enrolled can take courses relating to different academies.

Application instructions and more information can be found at polkschoolsfl.com/schooloptions.

Parents must apply through the Parent Portal. For instructions on how to create a Parent Portal account, visit polkschoolsfl.com/parentportal.

The School District generally kicks off the open enrollment period with its annual School Showcase (formerly the WE3 Expo), where students can explore school options, meet with school staff and attend live demonstrations and performances, Pleasant said. But this year’s showcase was canceled because of the pandemic.

Instead, the district is offering virtual opportunities to learn more. Facebook Live events at Facebook @PolkCountyPublicSchools will take place on the following dates and times:

  • Nov. 12, 6 p.m., open enrollment overview — Cochran, Senior Director of Acceleration & Innovation Brian Warren and Accelerated Programs Curriculum Specialist John Miller will provide an overview of the open enrollment process and an explanation of the district’s various school options.
  • Nov. 19, 6 p.m., high school options — Cochran, Warren and Miller will discuss options available to high school students. These options include Cambridge AICE, IB, Summerlin Academy and an array of career academies. A career academy alumnus will also participate to offer their perspective on the benefits of attending a career academy.
  • Dec. 3, 6 p.m., middle school options — Cochran, Warren and Rochelle School of the Arts Principal Julie Ward will discuss options available to middle school students, including pre-academies and magnet/choice schools. Magnet/choice schools offer rigorous academic programs focused on specific areas of student interest, such as the arts, IB and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
  • Dec. 7, 6 p.m., elementary school options — Warren and Winston Academy Principal Ava Brown will discuss the options available to elementary students, specifically magnet/choice schools. Families of students who will be in kindergarten in the 2020-21 school year may apply during open enrollment.

Families may submit questions to be answered during the live chats beginning the Monday prior to each chat. Follow PCPS on Facebook for more information on the live chats.

Decisions will be announced through the Parent Portal by Feb 15.