Programs of choice
Info nights for rising Hall ninth-graders and their parents
• When: 6:30-7:45 p.m. Nov. 14
• Where: The Oaks at Lanier Charter Career Academy, 2719 Tumbling Creek Road, Gainesville
• When: 6:30-7:45 p.m. Nov. 15
• Where: Hall County Schools central office, 711 Green St., Gainesville
• ATLAS Academy: Advanced curriculum for ninth- and 10th-graders. Available at North Hall High School. Learn more 6 p.m. Nov. 28 in the school’s performance arts academy.
• STEM Academy: Science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum using hands-on methods. Available at North Hall High School. Learn more 6 p.m. Nov. 28 in the school’s performance arts academy.
• Renaissance Academy for Creative Enterprises: Project-based learning at the student’s pace. Available at Chestatee High School. Learn more 6 p.m. Nov. 30 in the school’s RACE room.
• Endless Possibilities in Creativity and Collaboration Academy: Flexible, interactive and creative learning. Available at East Hall High School. Learn more 6 p.m. Dec. 5 in the EpiCC building at the school.
• Innovation Institute: In-depth learning in areas of interest to prepare participants for other advanced programs. Available at West Hall High School. Learn more 5:30 p.m. Nov. 17 in the school’s learning commons.
• World Scholars Program: Dual-immersion language curriculum designed for students who attended World Language Academy. Available at West Hall High School. Learn more 5:30 p.m. Nov. 17 in the school’s learning commons.
• Johnson International Scholars Academy: Advanced studies in the four core academics, a second language and an elective. Available at Johnson High School. Learn more 5 p.m. Nov. 16 at the school’s media center.
• STEAM Academy: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math curriculum. Available at Flowery Branch High School. Learn more 6 p.m. Nov. 29 in the school’s theater.
• Lanier Charter Career Academy: Learn more 6:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at The Oaks at the academy.
The Hall County school system offers “programs of choice.” So freshman Michael Nierodzik chose.
His family moved so he could take part in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program at North Hall High School and pursue plans to become a civil engineer and missionary.
Michael’s father, Phillip Nierodzik, said rather than face a 38-mile drive from the family’s Flowery Branch home, they put their house on the market and the three kids, two adults and two cats moved into an apartment while their house was built.
Next year’s class of ninth-graders and their parents will soon decide which programs they want to pursue. Information sessions put on by the school system Monday and Tuesday should help.
Laurie Ecke, Hall County’s assistant to the director of innovative and advanced programs, said the philosophy is to find the perfect fit for a student based on his or her interests and strengths.
“It’s really more about interest and focus than it is about the level of coursework,” Ecke said.
Students at East Hall High School do just that. The Endless Possibilities in Creativity and Collaboration program groups students with similar interests and learning styles.
“Students will be provided with engaging, creative and collaborative learning experiences that transcend the boundaries of a brick-and-mortar classroom,” program coordinator Michelle Fair wrote in an email.
Chestatee High School’s Renaissance Academy of Creative Enterprises is similar.
Students also can enroll in particular areas at the Lanier Charter Career Academy, including culinary arts, cosmetology, hospitality, construction, early childhood education and home health care.
“We don’t have students that are zoned to our school,” Kim Guy, assistant administrator for teacher quality with LCA, said in an email. “Most of our students are partially enrolled with us and attend their zoned (home school) for their academics.”
West Hall High School offers the World Scholars Program, dual-immersion language curriculum for students to continue studies they started at World Language Academy, program coordinator Cristina Vera-Silva said.
A number of schools have advanced coursework, such as the Innovation Institute at West Hall, Johnson High School’s International Scholars Academy and ATLAS Academy at North Hall.
“The Innovation Institute is a project-based learning program that involves the use of technology to create and design projects,” program coordinator Leigh Ann Nicolella said. “Our program functions as a cohort of students who participate in I2 honors world history and honors biology courses.”
Flowery Branch recently started a STEAM program, which adds arts to the popular STEM concept.
With so many options, some students may feel uncertain about the direction to take.
That wasn’t the case for Michael Nierodzik. When he was 13, the student heard a presentation about the STEM program at North Hall, and his father asked him what he might want to do as an adult.
“Almost immediately,” Phillip said, Michael told him he wanted to build schools and drill wells for clean water in Africa. Michael had been in the Just One Africa program thanks to teacher Gary Martin at the DaVinci Academy, which he attended.
If students can find “what might be called their ‘sweet spot,’” in the curriculum, they are much more likely to learn, Ecke said, citing an oft-repeated theme in Hall schools.
The STEM program seemed to best fit Michael’s interests.
Most students, however, don’t move for the programs. But transportation is not provided to students living outside the school’s attendance zone. Typically, schools have five to 10 students who attend from outside that zone, Ecke said.
Another attraction for the Nierodziks was North Hall’s music program and new performing arts center. Phillip and Amy’s second child, Jared, is a musician and interested in programming, sound boards and other aspects.
“Education is important to us. We want the kids to get the best education they can,” Phillip said, noting Amy is a former teacher in Gwinnett County.
“The school of choice programs that they have here in Hall County allow kids to grow their gifts. It’s not a one size fits all,” he said.