NEW PORT RICHEY — River Ridge High School has 180 students in its engineering academy, and hundreds more in its other technology, business and graphic arts programs.
River Ridge Middle School, which shares the same campus, wants to see if it can get even more students on those career readiness tracks.
So beginning next year, the middle school will realign its curriculum and course schedule to give students more options to accelerate in those areas.
"What it all focuses on is opportunities for students to be college-, career- and life-ready," principal Jason Joens said. "We are looking at how we provide opportunities for accelerating students who are ready for it."
If successful, the River Ridge initiative will serve as a model for other middle schools feeding into their high school career academies.
The plan calls for breaking the elective "wheel" in which seventh graders take nine weeks each of four separate career course areas, with the chance to focus on longer courses in the same curriculum as eighth graders.
The change would give seventh and eighth graders equal access to classes that directly tie into the high school programs, with a goal of streamlining the lessons from campus to campus.
The change would also allow middle schoolers to earn some basic industry certifications, and as many as five high school credits before becoming freshmen.
"We want our high school students to go even further because they're getting a push in middle school," said Rob Aguis, district director of career and technical education.
Some of the school work will be intense, including a focus on completing algebra I as an entry into basic engineering, both of which will serve as an introduction to the engineering academy.
"We've got to start integrating those courses into the academy," Aguis said.
The idea began as a single proposal to expand the high school engineering program into the middle school. But as teams of educators discussed the possibilities, Joens said, they discovered they could make the connections to the high school broader.
They added the other career options to the mix, and also foreign languages.
The middle school expects to add at least one freshman-level Spanish course for students. And because of its proximity to the high school, ninth graders also could take the middle school class just as middle school students can go next door for the high school version.
"It's a true articulation of resources," Joens said.
Once all the details are complete, the middle school plans to introduce the concepts to next year's incoming sixth graders, as well as its current students.
They've already got the buy-in from the central office, having met with superintendent Kurt Browning and assistant superintendent Amelia Larson earlier in February.
Joens expressed his enthusiasm in an email to Browning.
"I wanted to share how rejuvenated I feel from having people that are really focused on looking at (the) practice because it is best for kids," he wrote.
He reiterated on Thursday just how important he sees these changes as being for students.
"We want to accelerate their learning at this level so it opens additional opportunities for them," he said.
Aguis noted that the changes tie into state and national efforts to refocus academic standards.
"It is allowing us to look outside what we have always done for so long," Aguis said. "We are realigning the curriculum so it makes sense."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614.