by Danielle Anderson
If you haven’t visited a classroom in a while, you’re likely in for a surprise.
Today’s classrooms in the Flagler County school district are filled with hands-on activities and cutting-edge technology resulting in a quality education for students. In addition, students are afforded the opportunity to move throughout the district to pursue a track, via the Classroom to Careers Flagship Program, that feeds their passion for learning and prepares them to launch successfully into the next chapter of their lives upon graduation.
Flagler County Education Foundation executive director Joe Rizzo loves talking about the opportunities available to Flagler’s kids.
A graduate of Flagler Palm Coast High School, Rizzo left a successful career as a restaurateur to lead the foundation’s efforts.
His children attended Flagler schools and he’s seen the growth and refinement of the Classrooms to Carers program firsthand.
“It started as a challenge to the nine principals to really think outside the box and come up with a plan,” said Rizzo.
“They’ve really extended it and grown it to be something that truly aligns with Governor DeSantis’ mission and vision as far as what workforce readiness looks like. Because of that we really do have the opportunity to be one of the first places in the State of Florida, if not the country, to have one hundred percent of our kids to graduate and one hundred percent of them can either be ready and prepared for college or a career where they can have an impact.”
Students can choose from exciting program tracks including marine science, finance and corporate services, agriscience and green technology, robotics or law and justice.
By developing the programs in conjunction with industry leaders like AdventHealth, Rizzo said employers are able to share their workforce needs and the district can help tailor flagship programs to meet the demand.
“We really try to encompass all of our community players as far as the future job market, so when you look at it from a business standpoint, we’re really trying to create marketable employees,” said Rizzo. “I don’t think there are a lot of places in the country that are doing that.”
While AdventHealth Palm Coast does not track students hired, according to Chief Operating Officer Wally De Aquino, they routinely hire local graduates and are strong supporters of the school district’s programming.
“The future workforce is so important to AdventHealth and our mission of delivering world-class, whole-person care close to home for our patients,” he said. “We are excited by what Flagler schools are doing to help prepare students for jobs in health care and we remain committed to supporting our local schools.”
In partnership with the county, students at Flagler Palm Coast (FPC) High School interested in careers as a first responder participate in the Fire Leadership Academy.
While training for the Level 2 certification career track, students work with Flagler County Fire Rescue Captain Gil Aspinwall, who serves as the FPC program manager for the fire academy. Aspinwall helps prepare students exiting the program to be ready for hire after taking their state exam, through a working relationship with the Florida State Fire College.
“It’s a tremendous asset for us locally because you have the kids who live in the area, know the area and may not be full gung-ho on going to college right away,” he said. “This gives an avenue for them to still be productive in the community and it’s a way to help mold them into the firefighters we need them to be.”
The first of its kind in the state, the pilot program has been so successful it received the Institute for County Government Best Practices Award in December 2020 at the Florida Association of Counties’ Legislative Conference.
“The Fire Leadership Academy immediately came to mind when I read the criteria,” said Holly Albanese, legislative liaison for Flagler County. “It saves Flagler County much of the expense of training a new firefighter, it provides a pool of candidates when Fire Rescue needs to hire, and it prepares high school students to enter the workplace upon graduation.”
Flagler County has brought six of the program’s graduates on board since 2019, with a seventh earning employment with the City of Palm Coast’s fire department, before heading to a firehouse in Jacksonville.
The unprecedented achievements are something Flagler County Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt is proud of.
“We’ve also seen how the Fire Leadership Academy has led to additional career pathways in the medical and first responder fields,” she said. “The continued collaboration with Flagler County continues to make this program one that school districts and county governments across Florida hope to emulate.”
The Classrooms to Careers model is offering students the potential for a better quality of life through introductions to high wage trades and certificates. Employers like Coastal Cloud work with the district to provide Level One Salesforce certification through the i3 Tech Academy, while students in the advanced manufacturing program complete their training as certified production technicians. In essence, there is a career path and opportunity waiting for each and every student.
“Having the ability to help kids in our community is probably one of the most rewarding things anybody could ever ask for,” said Rizzo. “Our career coaching program is designed to align with jobs of the future, which is the whole purpose of our classrooms to careers programs.”
Flagler County’s Classroom to Careers Flagship Programs
Each public school offers a unique Flagship Program, which allows students unique opportunities to discover paths that lead them from the classroom to career success.
Belle Terre Elementary – Robotics, Engineering & Computer Science
Bunnell Elementary – Agriscience & Green Technology
Old Kings Elementary – Marine Science
Wadsworth Elementary – STREAM – Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts & Math
Rymfire Elementary – Medical Science, Health & Fitness
Buddy Taylor Middle School – Agronomy & Entrepreneurial Leadership
Indian Trails Middle School – Business & Computer Science, Outdoor Science, Agriculture & Marine Science
Matanzas High School – Finance & Corporate Services, Culinary Arts, Construction Tech, Law & Justice
Flagler Palm Coast High School – i3 Tech Academy, Aeronautics, Fire Leadership, Teaching & Learning, Medical
Danielle Anderson has worked in the public relations and media industry for a decade. She started her career as a reporter for Flagler Broadcasting where she discovered her passion for telling the stories of communities in Florida.