But what does a person do if he, say, chooses to not attend college right after high school? There is a sizeable population of high school students who, for one reason or another, choose to take alternate routes rather than the typical collegiate track. But often, that decision comes back to haunt many individuals, as they realize that while many jobs don't necessarily require a college degree, the most important factor is having a marketable skill.
And it is for this reason that the Union City Uptown Career Academy was opened last week.
The school, located at 4100 Palisade Ave. in Union City, is an extension of the already established Downtown Career Academy located on West Street near the Monastery.
The school's aim, according to officials, is to teach real-world, marketable trades. The academy will be teaching courses such as computers (design and repair), hospitality (hotel and restaurant management), criminal justice (for those students interested in a possible career in law enforcement), health care, retail sales, and marketing and technology.
Students from either of Union City's two high schools, Emerson and Union Hill, spend half of their school day at the facility. The academy has 10 classrooms, six for freshmen and four for sophomores. The students report to the academy each day and stay until lunch then return back to their respective school. Other groups of students report to the academy after lunch. As for juniors and seniors, it is hoped that by that time, they will have either secured a future prospect or an internship.
According to academy officials, all the programs offered at the academy have a work/study component. As juniors, the students work "in house" (for instance, they may put together an actual business in the school and run it as they would in the work world), and then as seniors, begin wading out into the real work field.
According to Union City Superintendent of Schools Stanley Sanger, the Uptown Career Academy is really just another piece in the "explosion in school construction." Said Sanger, "We recognized early on that some students have an academic interest and some don't. It gives the students a career track instead of an academic track. What this does is give the students options. It gives them training that they would not be able to get until after high school. And due to the fact that there is a lack of space in Union City, we've expanded from the Monastery location to add this uptown one."
It should be noted that the academy was not created to house and teach students who have decided against a college education. In fact, just the opposite is true. The academy is, according to officials, affiliated with the Hudson County Community College and The New Jersey City University. Students who take courses at the academy can earn college credits while still in high school. As Sanger said, it gives students a wider array of options to explore after high school.
According to Sanger, all courses are coordinated through the high schools' (Emerson or Union Hill) guidance offices. If a student is interested in pursuing a class in the academy, they would approach their guidance counselor and together they would ascertain what courses would be best for the student. Obviously, if a student shows a propensity for art, they might be steered towards Computer Aided Design (CAD) or Fashion Design. If a student shows an interest in business or management, they might be steered towards the marketing or retail sales classes.
"What we're trying to do here," said Sanger, "is spark the kid's interest. Every student is aware that this is available to them."
The facility, according to Sanger, is privately owned and is being leased by the City of Union City for $300,000 per year for 12-month periods. The Union City Board of Education contributed $125,000 towards the purchase of computers, furniture and other inherent interior supplies. Sanger also added that a significant amount of money came from a federal Perkins Funding Grant, which intended for vocational and career-oriented schools.
The school is run by Director of Vocational and Technical Education for the Union City School District Richard Quagliariello, who also handles the Downtown Academy. Said Quagliariello in a recent telephone interview, "This is really an offshoot of the downtown academy, which I also put together. I did that four years ago. I picked the teachers, interviewed them, so I know what we've got here."
Continued Quagliariello, "We realized early on that students needed opportunities in many different industries that can be the most lucrative. These include the airline industry, which is starting to come back, even after 9/11, retail sales and even fashion design. In fact, we have professors from the Fashion Institute of Technology come to the academy four times a year to talk to the students. That is a very successful and popular program. We also have five of our best design students go to FIT on Saturdays and spend time there."
According to Superintendent Sanger, there is no cost to the students. "This is completely free to the students of Union City," said Sanger. "We only ask that they use their time here wisely."
Academy Director Quagliariello summed up the academy's mission when he said, "We have a lot of students with a lot of potential. Students need to be turned on; they need to be excited. A lot of them never get turned on by school. I chose programs that I felt would excite the students and give them a real head start on their futures. I feel that not all students are interested in going to college right away, but this lays the tracks down for them to do whatever they want to in the future."