Junior Darian Flemming spends his afternoons playing with fourth and fifth graders and his evenings monitoring gymnasium activity at the Dr. James R. Smith Neighborhood Center. He has worked at the facility for several months and thoroughly enjoys helping out.
“I love my job and working with the kids,” Flemming said. “I have learned about working with people with different personalities and that every child may cooperate in different ways.”
Flemming came to Workforce Academy for the opportunity to earn school credit for his work hours and to bring his grades up. In most subjects, he’s now on track to receive an A.
As the class of 2014 walked across the stage at graduation, parents, family, staff and faculty shared in their accomplishments.
Senior Eddie Verde reflected on his years at Workforce Advantage Academy and filled the room with laughter as he brought cereal to Principal Belinda Jones and a trash picker to Chief Operating Officer Carl Merrell. But his message was serious. He described how he rose like a phoenix, the school mascot, while attending the academy. Then he told the class of 2014 to spread their wings and conquer the world.
Television news anchor Stewart Moore gave the commencement address, sharing his experiences and encouraging students to talk with people about their goals, because those people may be able to help you achieve success.Â His final message: “Pray, aim high and stay focused on God and your goal.”
Robert Cairns, former real estate developer, visited the school and met with students. He advised them to “think beyond today, have a goal for the future and work on a daily basis to do the best you can to move forward toward your long-term goal.” He offered the analogy of being out at sea in a rowboat and the need to keep looking for shore – “your goal” – or your survival chance is slim to none. He suggested they not become distracted and lose focus, to go to work early and stay late, and to exceed expectations. He also recommended that they learn from everything they do, and once they start earning money, to keep more than they spend.
Stefany Ramos, a 2012 graduate of Workforce Advantage Academy, continues her studies at Valencia College, where she is pursing an associate degree in nutrition and sports and exercise service. Ramos also continues working at Med Advantage, a job she began while as a junior at the academy.
Graduating seniors received their caps and gowns, followed by a catered luncheon, provided by Workforce Advantage Academy. Spirits were high as the students completed their high school years, finished all of their assignments and tests, and set off for the next phase of their lives.
Students enjoyed a delightful meal, savory handmade ice cream and dancing at the 2014 prom, Fairytale Dreams, held at the Country Club of Orlando. Congratulations to Derek Cavilla for coordinating the successful event, and Mercedes Farfan for her assistance. Quran Jenkins was crowned Prom King and Dianna Gipson Prom Queen.
Celebrity attorney Nick Nanton shared with students his experiences growing up and building a career as a celebrity attorney and branding expert, explaining the value of an education, even when it’s not fun. Nanton also talked about the bestselling books he has written and the Emmy-winning documentary films he has made. He recommended students think about how they can differentiate themselves from the crowd, to dress for the position they want, communicate effectively and figure out and then provide value to other people. “You make money by doing what everyone else isn’t,” Nanton said. “If it’s hard, you can make money doing it.” Nantan began his entrepreneurial career at 12, giving tennis lessons to other children and has recognized and seized opportunities. He encourages the students not to rely on one income source but to diversify. He also emphasized the need to save and to give back.
Students enjoyed bowling at Colonial Lanes, followed by a picnic-style luncheon. Many students bowled for the first time and did quite well. Other students tried out kick ball, volleyball, ping pong and other sports during the school’s field day activities.
Gilchrist McDonald’s named senior Terri Leath Employee of the Month. She has worked at the restaurant on Gore Street for several months. She said her boss encouraged her to keep up the good work.
“I like everything about working there,” Leath said. “I’m learning a lot about food preparation, but most importantly how to deal appropriately with customers. I’m so happy to have this opportunity to work while still in high school.”
Leath plans to join the U.S. Army after graduation and has set her sites on becoming an officer.
Alex Beightler, a 2009 graduate of Workforce Advantage Academy, has completed an associate degree in computer programming and analysis from Valencia College. While in high school, he worked for the Orange County Library and called it a “great job.” He is now looking for a software development position in Gainesville, where he is moving to live closer to his girlfriend.
“It’s a position to build a foundation for a solid future,” Beightler said.
Professionals from around the area participated in WAA’s Career Day, sharing information about their field and personal tips for success. Business Transition teacher Chris Canone organized the event with assistance from the Y Young Achievers Program.
Ericka Cotton, an independent broadcast and video producer, kicked off the event and explained that the job entails more than just operating a camera, with videographers also writing, creating and talking with people. Opportunities exist online as well as on broadcast.
“Start at the bottom, and work your way up, perhaps at a small television station” she advised.
Emergency medical technician Kristen Davis encouraged the students to find work they enjoy and want to get up and do every morning. A good paycheck is an added bonus.
Joe Brown, an Orlando Fire Department firefighter, encouraged the students to continue their education, and if they like to get the adrenalin going to consider working for a fire department.
“There’s no feeling better than when you save a little kid and her mother says, ‘thank you,’” Brown said.
Family law attorney Denaro Allen, called education the passport to the future and told the students to take it seriously. He told the students that anything is possible.
“Attitude determines altitude, and how far you go depends on how determined you are,” Allen said. “Nothing is easy, if it’s worthwhile.”
Anthony Fothergill, executive chef with DoubleTree, said that you have to start in his field at the bottom and struggle to get what you want. While he emphasized education is important, he said school is the easy part of life.
“Have a plan to make money,” Fothergill said. “Don’t be scared of the future. If you don’t try, you won’t succeed.”
Mike Crotty, owner of a construction firm, advised students to focus on what they are communicating.
Television anchor Stewart Moore told students to “pray first, aim high and stay focused.” He informed them the plans they make today will affect their lives forever.
Business owner Ruben Figueroa informed the students of the need to work hard and the importance of education.
“No one can keep you from what you want to do, except you,” Figueroa said. “It’s about what you do and the effort you put into it. Be passionate about something.”
Johnny Garner, a licensed massage therapist, also owns his own business but also works on the side at a spa in the attraction area.
“Go to school and have a goal,” Garner advised. “The best thing to have is your own way to make money.”
Sales professional Mike Irizarry called sales the foundation of capitalism. He encouraged students to get an education and suggested sales as an economically satisfying career that rewards hard work.
“It’s important to have drive and motivation,” Irizarry said.
Former pro football player and owner of a media production company Shante Tasby discussed his career with students and encouraged them to continue their education. He completed a program at Full Sail, which helped him become a producer.
Kim Morris, an intellectual property attorney, talked about beginning her career as a rap artist but wanted more.
“You can be anything you want to be,” Morris said. “Develop your talents. No one can take your skills away.”
Eddie Verde will attend Rollins College in Winter Park and already has selected his fall classes. He was accepted in to the Hamilton Holt School of Business, where he plans to study international business in a 3/2 program in which he will receive a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree within five years. Verde plans to attend the program in the evenings and continue to work at the U.S. Customs Bureau during the day. He has received a Hamilton Holt scholarship and is applying for other financial assistance. “This was my first choice and is a great opportunity,” Verde said. “This school not only has a national reputation, but also is known internationally as a good business school.” Verde also was accepted to Valencia College, where he has been dual enrolled during his senior year, earning a spot on the Valencia College Dean’s Honor List for Fall 2013 term.
Junior Stephanie Blackman began working at Mills & Nebraska in the fall and has earned high marks from her employer for being cooperative and following directions. She files, does some fast cash payday loan bookkeeping and other office projects. “I like it, because the people are nice,” Blackman said. “I’m learning how to keep up with the demands of business and helping others.”
A 2008 graduate, Kristen Davis now serves as a medical supervisor at DCI Plasma and as an emergency medical technician at OnSite Medical Services. She became a combat medic in the U.S. Army and found she enjoyed health care delivery. “I wake up in the morning and love to go to work,” Davis said. “If it wasn’t for coming to Workforce Academy, I don’t know if I would have ended up where I am today. My teachers and Mr. Hartsaw recognized potential that I didn’t see.”
Workforce Advantage Academy students spent spring break visiting the Intrepid, the United Nations, Ground Zero and West Point. They raved about the sites and the food they sampled at a variety of Big Apple restaurants. “Everything was perfect,” said Quran Jenkins. “It was the best trip ever, the best time in my life.” “We were able to see the whole city, and it was beautiful,” added Mirandashea Salon, who said she wished they could have stayed longer and adding, “Times Square was beautiful and bright and not what I expected.” Julio Ramos added that he liked everything, including the opportunity to explore Chinatown. While at that end of town, the group stopped by Ground Zero and looked at the fountains. “The 9-11 site was sad but so nice,” said Samantha James. Damon Welch agreed it was a wonderful trip and especially enjoyed the Broadway show Stomp, as did Carissa Collins, who also remarked about the infrastructure changes at West Point to accommodate women on campus. “Ms. Jones, Mr. Merrell and Mr. Hartsaw, thank you,” Welch said. The other students echoed that sentiment, expressing their gratitude to the people and donors that made the trip possible.
Management personnel from ADP Surfaces of Orlando visited the school and talked with students about preparing for the world of work to ensure a bright future. The company has hired and is mentoring four Workforce Advantage Academy students. They are working on fabrication of granite countertops. Lou Manzella advised students not to wait for opportunities to knock, but rather to kick the door open and create opportunities for themselves. He urged them to dare to be different. Then once they are working to save money and invest for retirement, to let money compound and work for you. Michael Chaney, operations manager at ADP, discussed his youth and overcoming bad decisions before finding the right path. He encourages students to not sell themselves short and to create a successful path for themselves.
Senior Joshua Smith dual enrolled at Orlando Tech and earned a SkillsUSA certificate in television and video production. After graduation, he plans to attend the University of California, Los Angeles and pursue a career in film and television. “When I get back to LA, where I grew up, I can get a job working in film part time while going to school and see how far I can take that,” Smith said. While attending the academy, Smith has worked as a lifeguard at CocoKey in Orlando. He added, “It has taught me a lot, mostly how to be responsible and pay attention to what you are doing. ”
Chanese Bradley, a 2011 graduate of the academy, has joined the environmental team at Orlando Health Dr. Phillips Hospital, after working in different hospitality positions. She said those jobs taught her self-control and anger management skills, but it was time for steady work with a future. Orlando Health offers tuition reimbursement. Bradley plans to return to school to become a nursing assistant and work her way up the career ladder.
Ryan Pitman, client project specialist with Retail Business Development of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Chris Rivera, area manager for Vonage, met with more than two-dozen Workforce Advantage Academy students in preparation for adding to their ranks of sales professionals at retail outlets. The two were seeking outgoing, energetic people who will be able to explain different electronics products to consumers.
The companies hired 12 students. Vonage conducted electronic training at the school, so students were prepared to work when they arrived at their assigned stores.
Several students continue working at Bags and earning high marks for their work ethic and desire to learn.
Erick Garcia, a WAA senior, began working at Bags this fall in the airport, moving luggage from one belt to another, loading cars and tagging the luggage so it arrives at the right destination. It’s hard work, but the senior enjoys it.
“I like helping people,” Garcia said. “I try to learn something new each day and I enjoy staying busy. There is always something to do.”
After graduation, Garcia plans a career in the culinary arts.
Senior Raymond Martinez is on a fast-track program at Bags to advance to a leadership position. He has begun helping with the training of new employees.
Senior Elix Villanueva’s supervisor describes him as a “superstar,” always wanting to learn. He has worked in various positions at Bags, including shepherding luggage off cruise ships at Cape Canaveral and ensuring they are properly tagged and arrive safely at Orlando International Airport to valet parking cars at a Disney resort.
“I like the people and have great bosses,” said Villanueva, who plans to study political science, journalism and education at Valencia College and the University of Central Florida.
Workforce Advantage Academy Introduction Video
A 2007 graduate, Jharisha Blackman has completed her political science degree at Florida State University in Tallahassee and has been...
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer
They are doing a marvelous job of uplifting students who haven’t been successful in their academic careers and pointing them...
Rick Roach – former school board member
I worked with Workforce Advantage Academy CEO Ken Hartsaw to obtain approval for the school 10 years ago and am...
Army Brigadier Gen. Henry L. Huntley
Workforce Academy offers advantages to students and staff members advocate for the young people attending the school. “You are a...
Former Florida Commissioner of Education Eric Smith: “Connecting the class work to them and their lives and making it meaningful....
Former Florida Commissioner of Education Mr. John Winn “we need to find ways to not only make their learning environment...