The Leaders of Tomorrow
Already making waves in the Central Florida community, the Junior Achievement Academy for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (JA Academy) on the campus of Oak Ridge High School excels at creating the leaders of tomorrow by preparing them for life beyond the classroom and in the workplace. The curriculum focuses on the four pillars of Junior Achievement of Central Florida (JACF):Entrepreneurship, work-readiness, free enterprise, and financial literacy. It aims to prepare young adults to be successful in the “real world” before they graduate.
Opening in 2012, the JA Academy will reach a pivotal milestone during the coming school year. With all four grade levels on campus this year, and its inaugural class preparing for graduation, success has already paved the way for preparing its young people for life beyond campus, developing the skills to be future leaders and exemplary community members.
“As a graduate of Oak Ridge High School, I’m delighted that JA has invested in my alma mater with its signature enthusiasm for our community’s young people and dedication to the principles of the free enterprise system,” said Glenda E. Hood, Mayor of Orlando (1992–2003), Florida Secretary of State (2003–2005) and Oak Ridge High School graduate.
Successes Prove Methods
Scholastic success is a vital part of the core curriculum at the JA Academy. Instructors often collaborate on projects and assignments, giving students the opportunity to develop life skills like communication, organization, and leadership. This approach also forces students to think about assignments outside of the general realm of thinking by working to combine lessons and theories from multiple fields into a single project – a skill many employers say this generation is lacking.
The method is proving to be successful. Students in the program are excelling academically and meeting high demands of their curriculum. The average GPA of students in the Academy is higher than traditional Oak Ridge students, and their test scores rank in the top percentages. Freshmen students are expected to reach a cumulative 3.0 GPA as a requirement of the program. This expectation has proven to give them a solid foundation during their high school careers, with many of this year’s senior class attaining GPAs over a 4.0.
Reaching Beyond the Classroom
Creating well-rounded students takes more than solid academics, internship opportunities, and leadership skills; it takes the opportunity to give back. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, students who participated in community service were 22 percentage points more likely to graduate from college and tend to have higher test scores in reading, math, science and history.
Giving back to the community is a core value of the JA Academy. Taking the initiative directly to their own community, the students developed the SOS club, which focuses on keeping the Oak Ridge campus beautiful. In the club, students volunteer their time to pick up trash, weed flower beds, and take care of their campus. In addition to their school beautification project, the students annually volunteer their time with the Special Olympics, serving as time keepers, helping at the registration table, and, of course, being some of the biggest cheerleaders.
Student Joseymi De La Rosa had this to say about the JA Academy: “It’s opened me up to better opportunities within myself and my community.”
Bound for College
Students in the JA Academy are expected to pursue higher education. Beginning their freshmen year, the staff and instructors begin asking questions about their post-secondary education. Many want to attend Ivy League Colleges, look out of state, or get into top Florida College programs. With the first senior class graduating this year, many community members are taking note of their interests and dream schools.
When talking to the students about paying for college, discussions focus on encouraging students to apply for grants and scholarships, as opposed to loans to pay for their education. By shifting the college talk away from relying on loans, students understand the value of scholarships and exiting college with little to no education debt.
Elevation Takes Note
Based in Winter Park, Elevation Financial Group annually presents a scholarship to a rising senior at Oak Ridge High School who exhibits strong character, academics, and leadership potential. Eleventh grade students throughout the high school go through a rigorous application process, where the group narrows the pool of candidates to five students. This year, of the five finalists, four were JA Academy students.
After interviewing the five students, the foundation determined to give two scholarships this year, and both recipients are in the Academy. The scholarship winners, Jennifer Perez and Irving Rodriguez, received $60,000 for college in addition to custom college consulting, guidance on potential majors, an action plan for their senior year, and assistance in developing a list of target colleges and universities to apply to. Both attributed the JA Academy with their success, and Elevation representatives agree.
Next year, the pool of candidates will increase as Elevation Financial Group extends the application to other high schools in Orange County.