In a middle school classroom, a group of 11-year-olds focus intensely on inputting complex patterns of symbols to form computer coding. A few miles down the road, students in a high school class assemble smartboards to build a robot.  At the same time, fourth graders in a nearby Spanish class prepare to connect live with students in Puerto Rico. On the other end of town, teenagers in a magnet program learn how to start a business and train at local companies. Across the Orlando region, these stories represent a new age of learning for K-12 students that prepares them for successful careers while meeting the workforce demands of the future.

“From our public, technical and magnet schools to our Florida Virtual School, and all the way up to our state colleges and universities, there is a depth of real-world learning that we’re pioneering here in the Orlando region,” says Tim Giuliani, president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership. “There is significant educational transformation taking place as we accelerate our efforts to get young people ready for careers in up-and-coming industries.”

Orange County Public Schools (OCPS), the 10th largest district in the nation with several of the country’s top-ranked schools, offers innovative school/business partnerships that give students a competitive advantage. Northrop Grumman, for example, created two educational initiatives, the Wekiva High School Laser Photonics Career Academy and the Laser Systems High School Involvement Partnership Program, to prepare students for careers in the advanced manufacturing industry. Lockheed Martin, a dedicated supporter of STEM programming in K-12 schools, provides significant funding, resources and volunteers to engage with students and directly impact their depth of knowledge in science and technology.

“Our schools are leading students to success with a sense of urgency. We deliver unique programs and experiences to prepare them for college and career,” says Dr. Barbara Jenkins, superintendent of OCPS. “The results of our efforts are evident in the extraordinary number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement and dual enrollment classes, our historically high graduation rates and the growing number of students accepted into the top colleges and universities nationwide.”

Orlando is also home to some first-of-its-kind schools in the country. The School District of Osceola County, for example, opened the first ever engineering and mathematics intermediate school in the U.S. At Discovery Intermediate fifth grade students enroll in relevant college and career preparatory curriculum with courses in design and modeling, automation and robotics, energy and the environment, and flight and space.

Recently opened in Osceola County, BRIDG, a state-of-the-art manufacturing research facility for smart sensors, imagers and advanced devices, will engage students, researchers and scientists in work to generate breakthroughs in sensor technologies. In fact, BRIDG is already hosting students in a pilot program that introduces them to engineers and other tech professions.

“The work that goes on in Orlando will help revolutionize life as we know it,” said BRIDG CEO Chester Kennedy. “And those involved in our hands-on work will be creating the industry’s advances for smart phones, vehicles, buildings, medical equipment and much more.”

Industry-specific magnet programs can be found not only in public education but in private institutions as well. The internationally renowned Montverde Academy, for example, focuses on engineering and robotics. The school’s two state-of-the-art science labs attract students from different nations.

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The sheer level of collaboration that education institutions have with private industry in Orlando sets it apart from other regions. In a unique partnership between the private Montverde Academy, Lake County Public Schools, Lake-Sumter State College, the University of Central Florida (UCF), and South Lake Hospital, high school students can enroll in a new Health Sciences Collegiate Academy where an evolving curriculum leads upper classmen to college courses that include internships at the hospital. Seminole County Public Schools is also committed to nurturing career-focused students, partnering with more than 900 businesses to provide students with special, designated curriculum in areas such as information technology, engineering, advanced manufacturing, bioscience, cybersecurity and much more. 

Keeping the momentum of career-focused learning and preparation from secondary to post-secondary is essential, and nowhere is that more evident than at UCF. In partnership with industry-leading companies like EA Sports and Siemens Energy, UCF established the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy for careers in emerging digital media and the Siemens Energy Center to conduct industry-related research.

Seminole State College and Valencia College also have a long history of working with businesses to provide innovative workforce training programs. The colleges were instrumental in recent economic development successes that attracted Verizon and Deloitte, who collectively created almost 3,000 new jobs in the region. 

“We are constantly evolving our educational programs to best prepare students for the future,” said Dr. E. Ann McGee, president of Seminole State College. “We provide critical training that enhances economic development and industry growth through education that is based in real-world, immersive, experience-based learning. Through our partnership with Seminole County Public Schools and UCF, we are educating the future leaders and innovators of our society.”

It’s this commitment to an exceptional educational experience that keeps the Orlando region at the top when it comes to preparing students for a bright future.

2017 Report Card:

  • Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins appointed to the National Board for Education Sciences
  • School District of Osceola County is partnering with BRIDG and the SEMI Foundation to create a high-tech career exploration program in the SEMI High Tech University
  • Seminole County Public Schools is recognized as a Premiere National School District
  • UCF and Valencia College broke ground on their new downtown Orlando campus in 2017

Photo credit: Tom Atkinson