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Station's technology academy has room for more

Monday morning, when I visited a class at Bryan Station High School's Academy of Information Technology, I couldn't have felt more out of place had I been dropped into an alien spaceship.

I didn't speak the language and, despite having students dumb it down for me, I didn't understand anything they were doing.

The academy, the only one in Fayette County Public Schools, is nearing the end of its second year. It was established, in partnership with the National Academy Foundation and local businesses, to give students four years to focus on a career path that could give them the upper hand in college or in the work environment.

NAF is a network of career-themed schools- within-schools that try to help students get a head start. Based predominantly in urban districts, NAF provides schools with curriculum suggestions, expertise and support.

At Bryan Station, the academy focuses on information technology. Other academies could target finance, engineering, or hospitality and tourism.

The students I saw Monday were engaged and enthusiastic about Web page design.

Junior Tyree Jones, 17, wants to use the IT classes to help him become a music producer. "I'm going to open my own recording studio," he said.

Amanda Florence, also a 17-year-old junior, said she was learning as much as she could about IT because "I'm trying to take it into the field of medicine."

Her partner, Zac Farley, likes the challenge of using Photoshop and building Web pages. He'd like to use his knowledge in the Armed Forces.

Together they were working on a PowerPoint presentation integrating the academy's mission and that of the Student Technology Leadership Program, which empowers and encourages all students to use technology.

With the presentation, Amanda and Zac hope to move the Bryan Station academy into the gold-level rank, recognition that they are meeting statewide goals.

"Then we can travel to elementary schools and help their STLP programs," said Zac, who said he built his first computer when he was in seventh grade.

Both said they would definitely recommend the academy to other students.

Joe Keidel's father is an "IT person," Joe said, and he's contemplating following in his father's footsteps.

"I'm learning Photoshop and video editing," Joe, 15, said, adding that he's even helped his father with Dreamweaver. It's a type of Web design software.

Joe, a sophomore, said he was accepted into the program during his freshman year and hopes to earn a paid summer internship in his junior year. "It's very competitive," he said.

Director Amy Johns anticipates 12 summer internships being given to juniors at various area businesses that partner with the academy. Did you hear that, parents? Paid summer jobs that could put your child on a meaningful career path and out of your house. Mercy.

Through a grant, 25 freshmen have the use of Dell mini laptop computers, which are used in all their classes to help connect everything back to IT, Johns said. There wasn't enough money to get the minis in the hands of upperclassmen, but she's working on that. The minis are checked out and returned at the end of each year.

Meanwhile, though, Johns would love to have more students sign up for next school year. She is targeting freshmen, in particular, so they can participate in the full four-year program. The sign-up period has passed, but Johns is willing to take any incoming freshmen.

The program is open to all students in Fayette County, first come, first served. The academy isn't a magnet program, though, so parents must complete out-of-district applications and provide transportation.

An application is available on the Bryan Station Web site, www.bshs.fcps.net, or you can call Johns at (859) 381-3308. Ext. 230, or e-mail her at amy.johns@fayette.kyschools.us.

Any openings after freshmen have applied will go to upperclassmen. Students will study Web design, digital video, computer programming, networking, and database and computer systems.

Maya Johnson's mother encouraged her to take the classes.

"She is a second-grade teacher at Booker T. (Washington Elementary School)," said Maya, 16 and a junior. "She wanted me to take Web design so I could teach her and she could teach her students."

When the class came to a tough spot for Maya, Ty Lovett, a 16-year-old sophomore, was helping Maya and another classmate. He's in the academy simply because he realized he had "some weird attraction" to technology and is good at it. He hasn't quite pinned down what he will do with his knowledge, however.

And that's fine.

"We're really trying to train general enough to take it into other careers," said Greg Drake, coordinator of instructional technology for Fayette County Public Schools.

With IT finding a home in everything you do, parents, you need to make sure your kids are on board with this program.

Think of their futures if they aren't.

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