Merritt Island, FL. – Merritt Island High School (MIHS) is taking students’ dreams of working in the business world and turning them into a reality through their Academy of Hospitality & Tourism. It’s known as the HEAT Academy which stands for Hospitality, Entrepreneurship, and Tourism at MIHS which has been in place for about 8 years. However, under the astute leadership of Mrs. Lauren Little, Academy Director, HEAT has grown and is continuing to grow, bringing new business partners, industry credentials, and classes.
Two seniors, Skyla Murray and Timothy Compton, said, “We joined because we wanted the academy experience.” The Academy experience involves having three classes each year with the same like-minded students, having special speakers, taking business-related field trips, doing business-related internships, and visiting business college campuses. While Timothy prefers Science as a subject matter, he has enjoyed his experience in this Academy. Skyla has always been interested in Business and that’s what attracted her to the academy. She says, “I plan to attend Johnson & Wales next year and major in Event Planning. The Academy definitely reinforced my original interest in the Business Industry.”
Little explains that the Academy provides, “small learning communities which create close relationships between the other students and with their teachers.” One of the main opportunities in the Academy that the regular High School program doesn’t offer is “work-based learning which has several prongs, from volunteering in the industry, to site visits, guest speakers, internships, mentors, and project-based learning. The Academy provides a real hands-on experience.”
In addition, the two core subject classes that are part of the Academy are the Social Studies and English classes. The teachers of these subjects combine business, hospitality, and tourism in their subject matter to bring these core subjects alive for students. Little says, “For instance, in history class, the students may study pilgrimages but focus on the religious tourism aspect of it.”
Many of the HEAT Academy students go on to pursue Business-related degrees. But, those that don’t still have gained valuable skills such as Customer Service, Communication Skills, Time Management, and other soft skills that will help them succeed in any profession they choose.
Of great importance are the Industry Certifications that students can earn while in the Academy. Little says, “Students can earn certification in the Microsoft Office Specialist (Bundle), Adobe InDesign, and ServSafe.” These industry credentials help high school graduates get employed because it puts them a cut above the average High School graduate. Little continues, “There are other certifications coming as well—including Entrepreneurship, Customer Service, and Hotel & Lodging.”
The HEAT Academy at MIHS is a Model Academy according to the National Academy Foundation (NAF) and with that comes preferential hiring at over 20 big companies. Certification with NAF is yearly and requires a thorough review to be sure everything is running according to their standards. MIHS is proud to be a NAF Model Academy where dreams matter.
Wanda Luthman, Freelance Writer/Children’s Author