County schools go next level on tech, computer courses

Students across St. Lucie County will soon have the opportunity to prepare for the technology jobs of the future – those jobs that will rely on computer science and engineering.

And for jobs that haven’t even been created yet.

Both Fort Pierce’s Westwood Academy: The W.E.S.T. Prep Magnet (formerly Westwood High School) and John Carroll High School are on similar tracks to offer students more opportunities to pursue the computer sciences.

“If we wait, we’re really going to be behind the eight ball,” said St. Lucie Public Schools school coordinator Jane Whitaker, who oversees the magnet school program for the public school system, including The Westwood Engineering Science and Technology Prep magnet.

It’s a sentiment shared by John Carroll High Principal Corey Heroux, who took the post last July and has spent the better part of her current tenure reviewing JCHS and examining other high-performing Catholic schools.

That research led Heroux to discover that other such schools are providing students with advanced opportunities for exploring computer science and technologies.

JCHS already provided basic level coursework – graphic design, digital arts, web design. But more was needed.

Heroux’s team researched and found the Amazon Future Engineer Program, which provides selected schools with the curriculum, training and support to offer more rigorous computer science classes.

“We were giddy – probably silly,” Heroux said, recalling when the school received word that Amazon had selected JCHS to join the AFEP.

At Westwood, a different partnership will provide similar benefits to participating students.

In December, the school district launched its LEGO and Microsoft partnership in select K-8 schools, knowing the program would be expanded this coming fall to The W.E.S.T. Prep Magnet high school.

The program starts in the younger grades and progresses through high school, becoming more challenging. Graduates could receive industry certifications and be career- or college-ready in the computer science field, according to Whitaker.

The W.E.S.T. Prep Magnet also has a partnership with Florida Polytechnic University, which will allow students to collaborate on college-level projects via virtual instruction.

The LEGO/Microsoft partnership grant is for five years, though Whitaker said she hopes – and envisions – the companies maintaining their involvement far into the future, given how technology is constantly changing.

Though the former Westwood High is now a magnet, it will continue to accept students zoned for it. However, a certain number of seats will be reserved as “magnet.” Those not zoned for the new magnet school have until March 22 to apply through the district’s Student Assignment department.

At John Carroll High, the Amazon Future Engineer Program is expected to be ongoing. The company will provide the program at no cost to the school. No additional staff is expected, either.

Heroux said all teachers at the school are welcome to enquire about taking on the computer science coursework, knowing that there will be training provided as well as support.

She said she expects to find a teacher with a certain disposition; someone with a growth mindset, the right temperament.

While the Amazon program provides an elective course for sophomores, juniors and seniors, John Carroll High has added an elective for freshmen that is expected to help them better understand what lies ahead for them should they choose to pursue the computer sciences.

“This is the world our young people live in,” Heroux said, explaining that she has already noticed an increased interest from those who will be rising to freshmen next school year.

Those who are interested in the program at John Carroll High are encouraged to email Assistant Principal Mindy Miller at mkmiller@johncarrollhigh.com.

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