The Mobile County Public School System hosted a Signature Academy Showcase today at the Greater Gulf State Fairgrounds, where eighth-grade students and their parents were able to learn more about the system’s 12 Signature Academies, four of which will open for the first time in August.

With the first academy opening in 2013, MCPSS officials say Signature Academies provide area high schools with high-quality, hands-on learning experience to prepare them for careers readily available in Mobile County, like aviation, healthcare and teaching.

The four new academies are Signature Academy of Advanced Careers at Baker High School, Signature Academy of Advanced Information Technology at Vigor High School, Signature Academy of Pre-Law and Public Services at LeFlore High School and Signature Academy of Engineering at Davidson High School.

Larry Mouton, executive director for Mobile County career and technical education, said one of the most beneficial and important aspects of the signature academies is their ability to link parents and students with businesses in their respective communities. Furthermore, he said the “small learning community” provided by the academies keeps students excited and makes them actually want to go to school.

“Students feel like they belong to something special,” he said.

Additionally, students are on the frontline of companies like Airbus and VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering and are better able to grasp an understanding of what careers will be available to them in the future, he said.
“It’s just opening the line of communication,” he added.

Signature Academy Coordinator Kristi July echoed Mouton by saying it is important to build lasting relationships between high school students and the community, while providing every student in Mobile with the tools needed to graduate college and be career ready.

Through such collaborations, students “gain insight into careers and have a strong foundation,” she said.

According to July, enrollment at B.C. Rain High School has increased by 100 students per year for the last two years, and she maintained the school’s Signature Academy played a role in the growing number of students.

“That is a great number for that size school,” she said.

Jenny Parker, a teacher at Davidson High School, said the EPIC engineering pathway was founded at the high school in 2005 because students who wanted to pursue further education in engineering were not graduating prepared enough to do so.

“We as a school realized we needed to fix that,” she said.

The new signature academy at Davidson High School will further build on the school’s current enthusiasm for engineering studies. In addition, Parker said students’ ACT scores have improved since the program was initiated.

Randy Rogers, director of site communications and government affairs site management for Evonik Industries — a multinational speciality chemical manufacturer in Theodore — said his company plans to provide students with site tours of the plant as well as provide their respective signature academy with classroom instruction from engineers.

“It gives us a chance to interact at an earlier stage before they show up as a potential employee,” he said. “It really connects the business industry sector into the education piece, which we see as extremely valuable.”

MCPSS Superintendent Martha Peek said it is exciting any time the school system can engage parents and students to let them know about what is happening with education. Further, she said with the more people learn about these academies, the more excited they become.

“I don’t think people understand how unique we are,” she said.

In 2013, MCPSS opened Signature Academy of Aerospace and Aviation at B.C. Rain High School, Signature Academy of Health Careers at Blount High, Signature Academy of Teaching and Learning at Mary G. Montgomery High School and Signature Academy of Advanced Manufacturing, Industry and Technology at Citronelle High.

Further, the school system, in 2014, launched Signature Academy of Manufacturing, Engineering and Entrepreneurship at Williamson High School, Signature Academy of International Studies at Murphy High School and Signature Academy of Engineering at Theodore High School.

With the four latest additions, every high school in Mobile County will now have a Signature Academy when school starts this year in August. Applications for admission to the Signature Academies are due to the MCPSS central office by April 1. If a student is accepted to a Signature Academy outside of their zoned school, transportation will be provided.