Summer academies open door to careers and real-world experiences


Klarissa Gonzalez, an incoming 10th-grader at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy,
builds a composite panel with honeycomb material during the GEAR UP Aerospace Academy.

By SAISD Communications
Friday, June 27, 2014

There was no chance that Klarissa Gonzalez, an incoming 10th-grader at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, was going to lounge around this summer. Fresh off of several days of debate with the National Hispanic Institute earlier this month, Gonzalez could be found among small aircraft in a hangar/learning laboratory at the Alamo Colleges’ St. Philip’s College Southwest Campus.

There, students in the two-week GEAR UP Aerospace Academy learned about the types of materials used in building airplanes and tried their hands at making the types of industry parts used to repair them. It’s a topic that intrigued Gonzalez, who is keeping open her career options.


“I have a lot of choices of what I want to be when I grow up,” she said. “I wanted to see aerospace because I’m really into physics. (The academy) helps me broaden my ideas of what I want to be: I don’t have to just go be a biologist. I can be an aerospace engineer.”

The Aerospace Academy, offered in partnership with St. Philip’s College Southwest Campus, is one of some 30 Summer Career Academies being offered at SAISD high schools, colleges or universities throughout the summer through the GEAR UP college-readiness program. GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, and every student in the class of 2017 is a part of that program.


SAISD’s Dr. Roxanne Rosales, executive director for academic support, said the purpose of the academies is to ensure that students have engaging enrichment opportunities throughout the summer to keep them in active learning mode.

“The feedback, so far, has been positive, with students saying in their reviews that they can’t wait for the next academy,” Rosales said. “We feel good about the fact that not only are they learning this summer and being exposed to potential careers, but they’re having fun in the process.”


Students are allowed to attend one or more of the academies regardless of their home high school.


From cupcakes to airplanes

Cruz Garcia, who will be in the 10th grade at Brackenridge High School in the fall, also participated in the Aerospace Academy, joining Gonzalez and other classmates in a hands-on lesson led by St. Philip’s Aircraft Technology adjunct instructor Mario McGee.

Students gathered around a workstation to watch as McGee walked them through the steps for making a honeycomb composite panel – the core material that gives shape to certain parts of the airplane, such as the wing tips. The students then made their own panels.

Making parts such as these is just one of the skills learned by students in St. Philip’s Aircraft Technology Program, which leads to an associate degree and prepares students for related federal certifications. For students such as Garcia, who loves math and science and wants to pursue a career that involves working with planes, the academy provided valuable exposure to a potential future path. He even could begin taking related classes and earning college credit as a junior in high school through the Alamo Area Aerospace Academy at the St. Philip’s College Southwest Campus.

His favorite part of the academy was visiting the air traffic control tower at Stinson Municipal Airport and hearing from professionals.

"We learned how the control tower works," Garcia said. "They don't just handle their own airports. They communicate with other airports. They all have to talk to each other to see who is coming."

The Aerospace Academy was Garcia’s second of the summer. During the first, a culinary arts-focused one at Lanier High School, he learned how to make soup, cookies and cupcakes, illustrating the broad range of careers that are represented by the summer academies.


Learning the language of code

While Garcia was exploring the world of a chef, Lucinda Angel and her classmates in the weeklong CodeHS Academy at Highlands High School were learning the language of code, a highly valuable skill that prepares today’s youth for the jobs of tomorrow by sparking their creativity and teaching them critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

The Highlands High School incoming sophomore took an online computer coding class, called CodeHS, as a freshman. Starting last year, all 9th-graders at the school were required to take that course.

“When I first went in there, I didn’t know what CodeHS was,” Angel recalled. “I kind of got stuck.” 
CodeHSAcademyPS


(Angel is pictured at left, center, collaborating with CodeHS Academy students.)


But she found the push she needed when the teacher began introducing the students to coding competitions. When the class visited Rackspace during the school year and she heard about the planned School’s Out Hackathon, an overnight coding competition, she found her resolve.


She signed up for the CodeHS Academy to sharpen her skills in preparation for the Hackathon. During the event, Angel and her team collaborated to create NBA Hot Spot, an app that relies on RSS feeds to put at the users’ fingertips a variety of professional basketball information for fans, including YouTube videos, blogs, scores, team notes and more.

Angel said the event, which included workshops throughout the night, was a success. Her team’s app did not win, but the members were no less enthused and enjoyed the experience.

“You got to sit down with your friends on projects that you wouldn’t get to get done at school,” she said,    

noting that there isn’t enough time in class to tackle large-scale projects. “It’s just this overwhelming feeling that you need to get the project done” once you get going.

Next year, Angel plans to take Advanced Coding, which will be offered for the first time at Highlands, and she aspires to intern and, one day, work for Rackspace. And with increased coding knowledge, Angel said she and her classmates plan to team up to make more apps.

“We’re not going to stop here. I know that we’re not done yet,” she said. “I want to work harder and get smarter.”

Creating a vision for college and career

At Sam Houston High School, students in the Infinite Possibilities! Academy are planning for their futures. On Thursday, that included an online exercise designed to give students a reality check about their future finances.

Kiah Mitchell-Scott, the school’s GEAR UP coach, walks incoming Sam Houston 10th-grader Kayla Lewis through the module, which prompts students to select a career and enter information about their projected living expenses. The exercise shows students whether they will be able to afford their desired lifestyle basedInifinitePossibilitiesPS on the salary for their chosen career.

(At right, Kiah Mitchell-Scott walks student Kayla Lewis through an exercise in finances.)

“You are going to be a police officer,” Mitchell-Scott tells Lewis. “You can’t buy forty-five-dollar face lotion!”

The results were a surprise to Lewis.

“I thought I was going to be able to make the amount that I needed to support my lifestyle,” she said, adding that the salary hadn’t changed her mind about wanting to become a police officer.


Lewis and her classmates in the academy began charting out a course for their futures the first week of the six-week academy, with the creation of vision boards that illustrated their dreams and goals. During the second week of camp, they began activities, through the Junior Achievement program, designed to emphasize communication and other soft skills they will need to be successful in college and in the workplace.

This week, the third week of the academy, the focus has been matching their careers to their college education. The last three weeks of the academy will focus on coming up with action plans for the upcoming school year, building team and leadership skills and culminating presentations.


“We want to build leadership skills and team communication, and then really get them to explore their own career and college goals,” Mitchell-Scott said about the academy.

In between the classroom lessons and team-building activities, students visit one college a week. They have been to Baylor University in Waco, Schreiner University in Kerrville and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. They will visit Texas State University in San Marcos and a community college by the end of the program, Mitchell-Scott said.

The college visits have been valuable to Sam Houston student Ellis’Zhae Campbell, who one day wants to be the District Attorney of Texas.

“I’ve always planned to go to college, but I had no idea what would be my deciding factors…other than by the water, big and away from home,” Campbell said.

She now knows she also will consider which colleges offer the best majors for students who plan to go into law school, whether her classes will be taught by teaching assistants or by professors and class size.