Environmental Studies Director Adam Mulcahy spoke to parents at WAHS Monday night

Albemarle’s rising 9th-grade students now have one more specialty center to choose from for high school.

Launching in August 2014, the Environmental Studies Academy, which will be housed at Western Albemarle High School, will welcome its inaugural freshman class.

“If they’re fascinated by storms and weather, if they love watching things grow and they’re interested in why, or if they just have a general desire to know more about the earth…then this is probably the direction for them,” academy director Adam Mulcahy said.

The ESA’s goal is to prepare students, who would attend WAHS full-time, to engage in an array of environmental fields upon graduation. To that end, staff have structured the program around three focus areas: Agriculture, Conservation Management, and Research.

Students who opt to concentrate on Agriculture will learn about farming and sustainability, as well as agricultural products and green materials.

The Conservation Management curriculum will expose students to land use, forestry, and field science issues.

Research students will learn about some of the physical sciences, such as oceanography and meteorology, as well as environmental policy and law.

Each of the concentrations will have specific elective options as well, and students will be expected to maintain a digital portfolio of their work throughout the program.

Following the lead of the Math, Engineering, and Science Academy at Albemarle High School, and the Health and Medical Sciences Academy at Monticello High School, Mulcahy said the ESA plans to admit an initial class of about 25, and grow the Academy in the following years.

In the first year, Mulcahy said, all Academy students will take Introduction to Environmental Studies, Earth Science, Geology, and World Geography. Additionally, Mulcahy said, students interested in the Agriculture focus will take a recycled materials and processes course.

Mulcahy said that the Academy will hold classes in WAHS’ existing classrooms, but that he envisions the construction of a lab, classroom, and greenhouse space for the Academy.

Schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said Mulcahy has made a proposal, and that it would be reviewed in light of other budget priorities as the division heads into the upcoming budget cycle.

Moving forward, Academy staff are forming a Community Advisory Board.

“As we bring in parents, and professionals from industry and education, then the biggest task will be to enrich the curriculum and develop projects that will be as authentic and valuable for the students as possible,” Mulcahy said. “It will be great to have individuals who are living and breathing in those fields every day, because they have a great idea of what experiences are valuable for our students.”

Beginning on December 2, a common application will be accessible from any of the academies’ websites, and they will be accepted digitally or by mail until January 31, 2014.

Homeschool and private school students may apply, but upon acceptance, must verify enrollment in Albemarle County Public Schools prior to admission.

Out-of-county students may apply, but must prove Albemarle County residency by June 14.

Interested families may also contact the Albemarle County School Board office at (434) 296-5877.

“It’s a big decision,” Mulcahy said, “but hopefully it’s one the student makes because it’s exciting, and one that the student makes because they want to be a part of something.”