Getting ahead of the curve
Innovative school program begins a new academic year
By Richard Gutiérrez
Academic life is full of challenges and hardships for the student, and the challenges are not only academic, but also social, as when students usually enter university, they are entering adulthood as well.
Adapting to a new environment while also learning to be an adult can be quite difficult to handle, not to mention the process of figuring out what to do after high school. Often, students end up dropping out or choosing a different life path, because even years after they have entered college, they’re still figuring out what to do. That is why the Inter American Academy in Caguas exists as a part of Inter American University of Puerto Rico.
“We decided to do something at a high school level with Dr. Collazo, who began this project,” Dr. Carmen García Rosa said. “Students may have the academic abilities to handle college and their academic results may show as much, but there are certain emotional situations that need to be dealt with in order to guarantee them a successful university life. Our school provides the basic academics as well as elective classes, such as a class named ‘Quality of Life.’”
“The students are even provided with a personal computer to supply the need for one, as in today’s age you can’t move around without one,” she added.
The innovative project originally started in the Inter American University in the Metro (CUC by its Spanish initials) [campus] facilities. It is a high school project that offers academic excellence focused primarily on preparation for university and the professional world. Students take courses with university credits, which gives them a great head start on their post-secondary academic life. As the average bachelor’s degree takes around five years to complete, in this case students are already advancing their academic progress; what could have been five years of college ultimately turns into three and a half years, helping students start their professional life a lot sooner.
With the help of professors and the use of computers and technology in general, the program adds layers to the academic experience.
The project is relatively new. It started in August 2021, and is considered to be innovative because Caguas doesn’t have any other schools like it. The academy’s mission is to provide an excellence-level education that promotes independent, critical and ethical thinking, while providing the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in university. The process is primarily marked by Christian values.
“I am currently retired from the Department of Education. Initially I didn’t want to work as a director because it is truly a difficult job to be a director; they are the ones who keep the schools in place and well ordered,” García Rosa noted. “However what motivated me to take on the challenge was the fact that this project was based primarily on Christian values. In public schools you can’t really talk about these things as much, but here we can work on these Christian values. Our youth are in desperate need of help and these values can be developed over time. We don’t speak directly about monotheistic religions or denominations, but we do teach nine principles/values to all our students that revolve around belief in a Judeo-Christian God.”
Parents who want to guide their kids toward a more conservative and Christian view of the world can be assured that Inter American American Academy is a school that promotes such values.
On Monday, the school began its academic year with many students running through the doors of the institution, where the entrance was decorated with balloons and welcoming messages. Apart from the messages covering the walls, the school director gave them a warm welcome.
“We are very honored to have you all here,” García Rosa said. “The fact that so many of you are motivated to join our school, study and learn makes us happy.”
The STAR spoke with numerous students from different grades, who offered their perspectives on their experience with the school.
“I was afraid at first; there were a lot of people and I had been in a different school for many years, but once I got used to it, the teachers were great and helped me a lot,” ninth grader Ángel González told the STAR.
“The university classes really got me excited because I never thought I would take any this early,” 10th grader Adriana Isabelle Sepulveda Ramos said.
Ivanna Marcano Santana, one of several 11th graders who spoke to the STAR, noted that “[i]t’s a very different experience, but I believe that’s the main purpose of education, to change our environment and get used to it once we hit college.”
“They really do prepare us for college here, with all of the professionals that are abundant in the school,” added Siera Ramos Martínez.
“Based on my experience, I would say that the basis of this Academy is to prepare us for a successful life, first and foremost,” Natanael de Jesús Falcón said.
“I was looking for a challenge, but more than that I was looking for something that would help me enter college well guided, so I wouldn’t be lost once I applied,” said Alana Cortés Pizarro. “Previously I had no goals for my life, but once I got here, I established those goals,” said Diego Alvarado Ortíz, rounding out the observations offered by Inter American Academy juniors. “I took the criminal justice elective and I discovered what I wanted to do; I discovered I liked that for sure.”
The STAR also spoke with various teachers, such as history instructor Yarieli Carrasquillo.
“I feel responsible as a history teacher not only to the students, but also to Puerto Rico; the youth are highly important for our society,” she said.
Added chemistry teacher Pedro Rivas Báez: “The quality of students that are here is incredible. They have a different mindset and I believe that there is a lot of potential for these students to be great in the future at a university level.”
The school also considers not just the current state of education and the economy but also the future of education.
“Things are obviously changing -- technology in a sense is taking over everything and the use of it is highly important for the modern world, which is why we provide a robotics class for students where they learn how to program and use robots,” technology teacher Lourde Rivera Rivera said. “In a sense these [subjects] interest students in math and science more; we already have three drones and a 3D printer to help teach students about math and science.”
The school is currently accredited by the Inter American Metro, but is looking forward to being accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education later this year.