EAST LAKE — The new school year brought several changes for students at East Lake High.
They have a new principal, Carmela Haley.
They also have several new academic programs to choose from: the Performing Arts Academy as well as three new strands, or class tracks, in two existing academies. Cyber security and accounting have been added to the Academy of Business and Careers, and biomedicine has been added to the Academy of Engineering, which is a countywide magnet program identified as a Center for Excellence.
"We know we must always keep up with the changing world,'' said Haley, 52.
She first joined Pinellas County Schools 15 years ago as a social worker teaching dropout prevention at several area high schools. For the last five years, she has served as an assistant principal at East Lake High.
Haley says that one of her goals is to "...not just meet, but exceed the community expectations" of the school. The new academic offerings will help, she said.
Last year, the Engineering Academy launched an after-school club, Cyber Warriors, and because of the level of interest shown, administrators knew courses in cyber security would be popular, Haley said.
So this summer Haley hired Raleigh Daves, a former business and computer teacher at Lake Gibson High in Lakeland, to teach the technology courses, and he has kicked off the new program with "Computer and Network Security Fundamentals.'' There are about 29 students, mostly freshmen, enrolled. Every year, another course in cyber security will be added.
"Cyber security is a new industry, and people are just now realizing the importance of protecting computer networks that are a part of big corporations and even organizations like school districts and hospitals,'' Daves said. "Our program is about teaching kids how to be able to protect the networks and how to stop valuable information from getting into the wrong hands, and we plan in the near future to get students certified to work in the (cyber security) industry.''
Career development also played a role in creating the new biomedical strand, said Haley.
"East Lake is known for our successful engineering program, but we knew the interest was here for biomedicine, too. So many of the students have parents that are doctors, and that might have to do with it. They plan on going into medicine as well,'' she said.
In the first biomedicine class being offered, about 29 students are preparing to spend the year studying crime scenes, doing dissections, examining the human body as well as studying diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
The students are also required to take biology this year, said Tonya Kistner, the science teacher coordinating the program.
"It's rigorous for the students,'' said Kistner. "And I think the biggest challenge (for the administration) is the cost for the consumables, the materials for the labs. It costs about $100 per student.''
Student Samantha Niedzwiecki, 14, first heard about the biomed course at orientation.
"I want to be a doctor or go into a medical business, and I knew that this would get me on the road,'' she said.
The new Performing Arts Academy is a result of years of growth in music, drama and band at East Lake High, said John Fulton, band director and chair of the performing arts department.
"All students here can receive the Performing Arts Academy designation on their diploma if they want to,'' Fulton said. "What is required is involvement in a performing arts class every semester (band, orchestra, chorus, music theory, guitar or drama), and they also have to be involved in extracurricular performing arts programs.''
Although she is thrilled to see the new programs start up this year, Haley recognizes that one priority must always stay in place: that the "...Engineering Academy stays the benchmark for all other Engineering Academies in the country,'' she said.
In the coming months, Pinellas County Schools will also consider another new program at East Lake High, but it will be for middle school students. Still in the planning stages, it is being called "the Gateway to Engineering Technology Middle School.''
Such a middle school, which the East Lake community has lobbied for for years, would fit well with the engineering program already in place, Haley said.
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163.