Editor's note: This story first appeared in Community News.
Academy Chattanooga, a public charter school for grades 6-12 with a focus on the environment, is introducing a new Environmental Institute for high schoolers and recently broke ground on new academic buildings to be completed by fall.
The Environmental Institute will offer three majors: veterinary science, environmental audio and visual production, and natural resource management. In addition to the courses required for their major, institute students must take general courses required for graduation, such as algebra II and biology, but along with a high school diploma, they can earn professional certifications, said Ivy chief consultant Angie Markum.
Such early post-secondary opportunities are in accordance with Gov. Bill Haslam's Drive to 55 initiative, which seeks to equip 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree or post-secondary certification by 2025. They also align with Hamilton County Schools' goal of establishing Future Ready Institutes providing specialized career and technical education in all Hamilton County public high schools.
The certifications students can acquire through Ivy's Environmental Institute include Photoshop, Microsoft Office specialist, veterinary technician, interpretive guide certification and wilderness first aide certification. Within the four-year programs of study, the institute also offers dual-enrollment classes such as veterinary and animal science, audio-visual production, and environmental and natural resources management. Depending on the certifications they attain and their major, students will be prepared to enter related careers — veterinary technician, audio and visual production, or turf management, for example — without a college degree.
"We have such awesome natural resources in this region," Markum said, giving the area's abundance of hiking trails, climbing spots and waterways as examples. "We wanted a school that emphasized training in these areas and fit the needs of our region."
The Environmental Institute programs are open to Ivy's rising ninth-graders, and older high school students and eighth-graders will be able to take some of the courses as electives, Markum said.
A parent night for rising ninth-graders is set for Thursday, Feb. 22. Interested families will hear from representatives for each program and receive an application packet for the institute, said Executive Director Holly Slater. Students will speak with their school advisers before submitting applications the following week.
If the school receives more applications for a particular Environmental Institute program than there are spaces available, students accepted into the program will be selected based on whether their application was turned in by the deadline as well as their GPA and an essay, Markum said.
The campus expansion, which was designed by local firm Franklin Architects and is being built by Chattanooga contractor Dillard Construction, is funded by a $3 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture Office of Rural Development. It includes the addition of 12 classrooms, a library, administrative offices and a covered courtyard.
All students in grades six through 12 now are housed in the same building, and every classroom is used to teach classes required for graduation, Markum said. The building additions will allow students to take classes the school hasn't previously been able to offer due to lack of space, such as audio-visual production, she added.
"It allows us to give students the variety of courses they would like to take," said Slater.
The expansion will also allow for an increase in enrollment.
"We've had a waiting list for each grade for quite some time," Markum said.
Ivy had 200 students enroll for the 2016-17 school year, which increased to 220 in 2017-18, she said. Next year, there will be spots for 317 students, according to Director of Admissions and Environmental Programming Ansley Eichhorn.
The deadline for applications for the 2018-19 school year was at the end of January, and the school had 82 new students apply for 45 available spots in the high school and 146 new students apply for 89 openings in the middle school, Eichhorn said.
"This is probably the biggest applicant pool we've had," she said, adding that the school has about a 50-percent acceptance rate for new students.
Ivy is launching a fundraising campaign to help pay off the loan for the expansion. While it required no down payment and has a very low interest rate, officials said they would rather the money they would otherwise have to mortgage to pay off the loan instead be dedicated to education. For $150, donors can sponsor one square foot of the overall additions. People also can donate flat amounts of $10 or $20, or provide funds for a specific need, such as the $5,000 needed for cameras for the production studio.
Ivy Academy, located adjacent to Cumberland Trail State Park on North Chickamauga Creek in Soddy-Daisy, is open to students throughout Hamilton County. To learn more about the Environmental Institute or to donate toward the school's expansion, visit ivyacademychattanooga.com.
Contact Emily Crisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.