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Romeo — Transforming its public high school into three career-themed academies to better prepare students for college and the workforce is the focus of a new program under development at Romeo Community Schools.

Starting in the fall of 2019, high school students in the Macomb County district will attend the Academies at Romeo where learning is taught through the lens of a career theme, such as engineering, healthcare, technology or business, said Jennifer McFarlane, assistant superintendent.

A total of four academies will exist within the high school by next fall, including the Ninth Grade Academy which kicked off this year in the district.

The other three academies, which are currently under construction, will be the Academy of Health, Human and Public Services; the Academy of Design, Engineering and Manufacturing and the Academy of Business, Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

"This transformation will only bring more partners into the schools, resulting in our students receiving practical and hands-on experience in a field before they graduate — one of the keys to the academy model," McFarlane said.

After attending the ninth grade academy, students in 10th through 12th grade will participate in authentic work-based learning opportunities such as industry tours, job shadows, internships and other career exploration activities with local employers, McFarlane said.

They will also work closely with professionals in their field of interest, making their studies more relevant and connecting classroom knowledge to success in the workplace.

"All students and staff will be in smaller learning communities where they will have the opportunity to get to know one another and build strong relationships. These smaller teams will ensure that all students have the skills and knowledge to be successful in college, career and life," she said.

Ford Next Generation Learning, which works to transform high schools into public career academies across the United States, has been working with the district for two years to make the change possible.

In a ceremony held Friday in the district, Romeo Community Schools was designated as the first Ford Next Generation Learning community in the state of Michigan. 

In order to be designated a Ford NGL community, the district had to develop a three-year master plan that would ensure all high school students are learning in career-themed academies, school officials said.

The district, which serves about 5,500 students, started working on the plan two years ago when community and regional stakeholders worked together to envision and plan Romeo High School’s transition to the Academies at Romeo, school officials said.

Cheryl Carrier, executive director, Ford Next Generation Learning, said as the first Ford NGL community in the state, Romeo is paving the road for other communities in Michigan.

"The Ford NGL partnership gives students and teachers a competitive edge that improves their chances for future success and will benefit the workforce and economic development needs of the region for years to come," Carrier said.

As part of the Ford NGL model, the district has a partnership with the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

John Paul Rea, director of Macomb County Planning and Economic Development, said 
businesses throughout the county are focused on developing inventive ways to respond to their talent needs.

Rea said on Friday there are 17,000 unfilled jobs in Macomb County.

"If we don't do something different, we are never going to meet the demands of industry. We need to rethink talent," Rea said. “By working directly with Romeo to better connect the classroom to careers, we are helping students explore future professions and strengthening our economy."

Parent Stacey Felstow was among a group of more than 100 who attended the designation ceremony Friday in the district and said she supports the transformation of the high school into three specialized academies. 

Felstow plans to allow her triplet daughters, who are freshman this year, to pick their own academy when the times comes next year.

“I think it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for them," she said. "My husband is a business owner and he helped on the planning committee and he is invested too and thinks it’s going to be great for our entire community."

Ron LeBlanc, principal of the 9th grade academy, said the freshman students are excited about what is to come.

"Through these academies a lot of these kids won't need college," he said. "They will have careers right out of school."

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