Any evidence that the education system is better-meeting the needs of employers is always welcome news. Here’s some: Enrollment at the Alamo Area Academies this fall has increased to 275 from 259 because of a record incoming class of 178 high school entrants. Capacity at the four high school-to-career academies is 416 students, but the increase in students this fall is accompanied by bigger internship and job commitments from employers for students attending the academies.

The specific enrollments are: Alamo Area Aerospace Academy: 83 Information Technology and Security Academy: 101 Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Academy: 68 Health Professions Academy: 23 High school students enrolled in the industry-driven academies spend half of school days at their home campus and the other half at the various academy classrooms.

Students have the inside track for summer internships and post-graduation jobs, usually with college financial assistance. They also have opportunities to load up on college credits while still in high school. “The youth of America are starting to realize the importance of post-secondary education,” said Gene Bowman, executive director of the academies, an Alamo Colleges position. “A lot of great jobs out there require post-secondary education, certificates and associate degrees, not necessarily four-year degrees,” Bowman said. “If more high school counselors would encourage students to see the academies as a viable opportunity, we would exceed capacity.”

The opportunities can be exceptional. Eight manufacturing academy students, for example, had eight-week paid internships this summer at San Antonio’s Toyota assembly plant. Toyota plant executives were so happy with the students they are planning to accept as many as 20 next summer. The students learned everything from facility maintenance to tool-and-die stamping, painting and robotics while at Toyota. Two of the interns now are in Toyota’s work-study program in which they attend school three days a week and work at Toyota two days a week. “We thought it was a real success,” said Toyota plant spokesman Craig Mullenbach. “The interns obtained hands-on, real-world experience they can take back to the classroom,” he said. In what may be a first in the country, the 24th U.S. Air Force took in six interns from the Information Technology and Security Academy this summer.

The six, now high school seniors, currently are working part time at one of the 24th’s units, the 33rd Network Warfare Squadron. The six teens, as a team, had won the regional CyberPatriot competition and placed third in the national competition this spring. They started working this summer at one of the units of the 24th U.S. Air Force, which operates and protects Air Force networks. The proposal that led to the 24th Air Force internships had to go to a four-star general for approval, Bowman said.

The students went through the rigorous security-clearance process. The summer program went so well, the Air Force continues to employ the high school seniors at the 33rd Network Warfare Squadron. The six students are true pioneers in this education-to-career program. “Instead of sacking groceries on weekends,” Bowman said, “they are defending the nation.” If that doesn’t convince area employers how dependable and valuable Alamo Area Academies students can be, nothing can.