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With a $4.6 million government grant, Proviso Township High Schools will begin a Magnet School Assistance Program, known as Mini-Magnets, at Proviso East and West to help secure internships or apprenticeships during students’ junior and senior years.

The program, which will debut next year with the class of 2008 and 2009, will be run by Director Kay Meredith and Assistant Director Margo Umans, who have recently joined the staff at Proviso.

“It is a federally-funded project, and we are one of 25 national awardees,” Meredith explained. “It covers two academic tracks. For East, it is fine arts and communication.”

At Proviso West, students will be taking the global studies and technology academic tracks.

Each academy will feature four sub-themes with subject areas that relate to the academy’s focus. At East, students will concentrate on fine and performing arts, health care, culinary arts and hospitality management or public safety.

At West, students will participate in electronic media production, accounting and finance, auto tech and transportation or world languages, Umans said, adding that eventually there will be six languages offered but that the program will begin offering French, Spanish and German only.

“The overall goal is to focus on raising student achievement,” Meredith said. “First, the programs will create a smaller learning community, mini-magnet schools operating within a school. We create small communities to help acclimatize [freshmen] to the high school environment and to provide expanded opportunities in these career fields.”

The students will participate in the core curriculum for the school but will also receive targeted instruction within the set career fields and will have an advisor that will help them target their studies and, during their junior and senior years, obtain internships and apprenticeships in local businesses.

“Some of the [advisory period] complements the vocational elements of their field but, also, there will be basic consumer education,” Umans explained.

Each program track advisor will mentor the students and facilitate the advisory seminar courses, tracking student progress. In the seminar, Umans explained, students will also learn about opening checking accounts and managing money.

“Through these offering we hope to encourage students to form career goals prior to leaving school,” Meredith said. “It will help students to employment opportunities or to transition to further education.”

The career tracks for the mini-magnet academies were carefully chosen for each school.

“There were some student surveys about their interest, we also looked at where existing courses were within the schools and at the facilities,” Meredith said.

Students from East or West who wish to participate in the other school’s academy may also apply to be transferred within the district.

Currently, Umans said, the program has 94 students enrolled at Proviso East and 140 at West. Most of the students in East are enrolled in the health care track, while most of the students at West will be concentrating in the electronic media production track.

In order to participate in the mini-magnets, the students underwent an application process during which Meredith and Umans matched the students to their appropriate tracks, keeping in mind the students’ interests.

During the process, Umans explained, they also looked at attendance records and for “students whose personalities fit into this program.”

Meredith, a former Communications and Change Management Specialist for the University of Illinois, and a Maywood native, said she sees a great value in the program, not only for students who wish to enter the workforce after high school, but also for those wishing to go on to college-level studies.

“Part of my background has been in college admissions,” she said. “At times I met with students many of whom would choose career fields they had no experience with. This is where this program makes a difference in their high school experience. They can make well-considered decisions in terms of a career.”