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Career Academies give graduating seniors a jump start; Instruction in firefighting, medical

By Staff | May 30, 2008

The Class of 2008 will be attending its graduation ceremony this weekend, and Cape Coral’s young adults will be embarking on their lives outside of the Lee County schools where they have spent years studying.

Thanks to Ida S. Baker High’s Career Academies, many of these students are entering the job market with one leg up on the competition.

In one of the school’s five academies, students can learn the fundamentals of construction, business, engineering, medicine or public service, which includes criminal justice, teaching, journalism and firefighting.

Six seniors from the Firefighting Academy have completed Firefighting I — a prerequisite for cadets wishing to become firefighters. Their next step is to take the state exam, and they are currently waiting to hear the exam dates from the Bureau of Fire Standards and Training.

Cecilia Lewis, the academy program coordinator for Ida S. Baker, said that not only is the program unique to the high school, it also puts students one step ahead of anyone from the community interested in becoming a firefighter.

“As far as we can tell, it is the first type of academy in the nation. Our firefighter instructor did some research to find a similar academy, but this is the first time we had a group graduate high school and be able to get a job as a firefighter,” said Lewis.

Mick Whitewood, an instructor for the academy and a state certified firefighter, said it is impressive that the young men were able to rise to the challenge of completing the program and their other school work.

“Not only have the students risen to the daunting physical requirements, but also have met the rigorous mental training required to become firefighters. I’m very proud of these young men and am confident that they will excel in their chosen career as firefighters,” said Whitewood.

Lewis explained that some of the graduating firefighters are interested in looking for jobs around Cape Coral or Fort Myers.

“But with the job market, they will go wherever they can get a job,” she said.

Many of the veteran firefighters within the Cape Coral Fire Department have recently been offered an early buyout from the City Council and, as a result, graduates of the academy may be able to fill some of the vacancies.

While the Firefighter Academy at Ida S. Baker was the first ever in the Lee County School District, splinter firefighting programs have been implemented at East Lee County High in Lehigh Acres and South Fort Myers High.

According to Lewis, South Fort Myers High will have some firefighter graduates by next year, while it will take a couple of years for graduates to be ready at East Lee County High. Overall, the academy is a three-year program.

“The Career Academies and comprehensive high schools are doing wonderful things for students,” said Superintendent Dr. James Browder. “Our students really do have an advantage when they graduate. They are entering the world of work ahead of the competition, which is tremendous.”

Ida S. Baker’s Education Academy also has nine seniors who have completed Level III courses and internships in education. According to the school district, they have signed contingency teaching contracts with the county, which guarantees them a job when they finish their college degree.

Twenty-four students at the school’s Medical Academy will be eligible to take a licensing test administered to certified nursing assistants. The school district said that almost half of the graduates are planning to take the test this summer, while the rest are attending other universities.

One student graduating from the Criminal Justice Academy has completed the requirements to become a paralegal, and was recently hired by a local law firm.

Ida S. Baker is one of three comprehensive high schools in the county. Having only been open since 2004, it has become one of the most popular with 697 first choice requests by students this year.

“We have received a lot of applications from students to Ida Baker High,” said Lewis. “We are a very popular high school. Right now we are the number one choice of high school students in Lee County.”