Career academies offered in Clay County

Students take course in career field they are interested in pursuing

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - The Clay County School District is expanding opportunities for their students and becoming one of the first counties in the state to offer career academies in all 16 of its high schools.

Instead of students taking electives like physical education and art class, they can take a course in a career field they're interested in pursuing.

Career Academies at different schools include courses in police, fire, medicine and law. The program is expected to grow in the next several years.

Channel 4's Hailey Winslow was able to take part in one of the career academy criminal justices classes Thursday.

"We do crime sketches, we've done this room, the back room and made up our own new little crimes. We've gone through scenarios of what we would do in a crime scene, we've done law cases where we've actually been lawyers," said Criminal Justice Academy's Taylor Bourg.

The law enforcement program is one of 16 career academies offered to students at high schools throughout Clay County.

Superintendent Charlie Van Zant is working on expanding the career academy program exponentially over the next four years.

"What I've noticed is everything that we're measured on as a school system works out better for students in an academy setting," said Van Zant.

Van Zant told Channel 4 that Career Academies will improve GPAs, attendance and graduation rates at the schools, as well as cut back on disciplinary problems because students are in a more intimate setting. The course advances throughout the student's four years and they usually have the same teacher.

Harold Rutledge teaches the Criminal Justice Academy. The kids refer to him "inspiring" and "a second dad."

"This is kind of like a roof and we're all a big family. He's made me more confident. You can't really verbalize the definition of a father," said Criminal Justice's Kelsey Shannon.

Some students in Shannon's class travel from all around the county to be part of Clay High's four-year law enforcement class.

"We're not asking your 14-year-old student to make a decision to be a carpenter or an airline pilot at ninth grade. The skills they will learn throughout any of our academies can be applied to other career fields," said Van Zant.

Van Zant advises parents who would like more information on Clay's career academies, visit

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