CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Incoming freshmen in Clay County will be the first to be a part of the county's new initiative -- The Academies of Clay.
The program has been an option for students in the county's high schools, but starting in August, soon-to-be freshmen will be required to take part in an academy.
Students will be able to pick an academy that meets their talents and interests, and most importantly, they'll spend their four high school years with the same group of students, teachers and guidance counselors.
Within just weeks, Clay County has lost three students to suicide, and school officials think this program will help prevent tragedies like that.
School officials said the innovation prepares students for college and gives them the opportunity to build close relationships with the fellow students and teachers with whom they will be grouped.
"You're like a family because you travel through the school together," said Brianna Timmons, a sophomore at Clay High School.
Timmons said she loves being part of the Academy of Law and Emergency Services.
"I'm in the academy to set me up for a better future, because when you're in the academy, all your classes are all related to what you're going to do in the future," Timmons said.
She wants to be an FBI psychologist or lawyer, and the close-knit community that an academy brings enables her to prepare for her future. Most importantly, the program teaches her to build closer relationships.
Last year, there were about 1,700 high school students in Clay County in career academies.
In the next school year, all incoming freshmen will join the one of their choice, and there are about 11,000 high school students in Clay County.
Students will get to choose their academy based on their skills and interests.
"We develop a very close relationship. They trust me," Clay High teacher Harold Rutledge said. "I become their mentor to some. We work through problems together, problems they might not tell someone else."
After the three recent student suicides in Clay County, teachers and administrators are reminded of the importance of building relationships with their students. Rutledge said because an academy teacher will have his or her students for all four years, that teacher will be able to more easily pick up on a problem a student could be facing.
"This is a safe place that they can come with their problems, and their teachers can listen to them and help guide them in the right direction," Rutledge said.