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Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 12:00pm

It's Almost Time For Georgia Eighth Graders To Choose A Career Path

Friday at noon is the deadline for Savannah-Chatham County Public School students to apply for specialty programs.

Some of these programs include engineering and arts education.

Georgia now requires all 8th graders to choose a career like those taught in specialty programs. This means 13 and 14 year-olds are facing a big decision.

Assistant Principal Jimmy Cave opens the door to a room filled with computers and little robots that look like big remote control trucks.

"This is our Lego robotics lab," Cave says. "This is where students get there first taste of programming."

Cave says having STEM at Savannah Chatham is a huge plus, especially since its the type of school where it's never too early for students to think about jobs in high-paying fields like robotics.

"Middle school is the opportune time to explore those," Cave said. "That way the students are exposed and maybe have an idea and maybe get that information early on and then they can make an informed decision of what they want to do and proceed in the future."

Georgia started Career Pathways last year to build a better workforce.

High school students now stick with one field of study, and students pic their field in the eighth grade.

Standing outside STEM Academy waiting for a ride home, 8th grader Michael Greco says he and other students are thinking about what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

"A lot of us are [thinking about it] in STEM Academy, such as chemistry, technology, for instance," Greco says. "They're learning how to build hardware, software and everything like that."

Greco has applied to a high school specializing in engineering.

But some doubt 8th graders are ready to make such life-altering decisions.

Laura Barrett, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Armstrong Atlantic State University, says the choice comes too early.

"I'm a little worried about the fact that there's not much wiggle room," Barrett said. "They can postpone this decision until the 9th grade. But at that point it becomes very difficult for them to backtrack. So, I think they're kind of stuck."

In a nondescript suburban office building in Savannah, a group of middle and high school students are practicing a play.

The group's 8th grader, Jessell Morrell, plays a student learning about history.

A non-profit after-school program called AWOL, or All Walks of Life, brought these students together.

Morrell, says she has no problem identifying her ambitions.

"AWOL has really helped me to plan that and get my goals together," Morrell said.

She's applied to a high school specializing in the arts because she wants to be a singer.

AWOL theater coach Lakesha Green says she wanted to be a lawyer and a teacher before she got into theater.

"It depends on how it's being taught," Green says. "Are they telling the students all the possibilities and not just limiting their possibilities like 'You can only be a doctor or a lawyer, that's it.'"

The state offers 17 options including agriculture, manufacturing and the arts.

Tom Koballa, Dean of the College of Education at Georgia Southern University, says the choices are broad.

"I really view it as not a restriction but really an opportunity for students to learn more about what they might think would be an interest for them as an education pursuit or as a career," Koballa said.

Parents have been lining up at school offices in Chatham County this week as the noon deadline for specialty program applications nears.

The programs also include choices for middle and elementary schools specializing in specific career paths.