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Bergen County Academies: Excellence in Action

By Danny Jaye

Stem cells. Nano-technology. Robotics. Simulated Patient. Flow Cytometry. Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer.

These words might describe the goings on at the Nation’s leading pharmaceutical companies, hospitals or research laboratories. Perhaps few would expect to use these words in describing the academic and technical programs of a public high school, but then again, only few have encountered a public high school like Bergen County Academies where the future has arrived.

As one of the top magnet high schools in The United States, Bergen County Academies is a student’s dream come true. The recipient of the prestigious 2007 Intel School of Distinction Award for Innovation in Mathematics, BCA boasts seven unique academies that host students with unique yet focused interests in Science, Medicine, Business, Engineering, Culinary Arts and Hotel Administration, Visual and Performing Arts and Telecommunications. All of these diverse academic focuses converge under one roof to form a powerful student body: diverse, multi-talented, and academically distinguished. BCA students typically receive over 14 million dollars in scholarship money as they head off to America’s elite colleges with hands-on experience in their many areas of interest due to BCA’s Senior Experience Program that matches students with mentors at prestigious institutions in a year-long internship.

Life on the BCA campus is like no other: visitors are greeted at the front entrance by Robit, a 21st century robot and valuable teaching tool that interfaces with Tomorrow’s Children at Hackensack University Medical Center, to extend BCA’s walls to teach children undergoing medical treatments. Treating pediatric cancer patients, The Tomorrow’s Children Center at HUMC is one of BCA’s many partners in education.

Stroll down the hallways at BCA and witness the future in action: students engage in provocative conversations, collaborate on chemistry experiments, compare approaches in solving challenging math problems, film a video to be edited in a state-of-the-art television studio, prepare to teleconference with a partner school in a remote area of the world, or simply read, relax or strum a guitar.

The main hallway on the second floor leads to what some have described as the dining room of a four-star restaurant. Welcome to The Academy Grill, the restaurant-like hub of the Culinary Academy, which serves as the sampling post for the gastronomic delights prepared by our culinary students whose kitchen is their classroom. Staffed by two professional chefs, a soufflé pan replaces a chalkboard, and textbooks are eschewed by students meticulously preparing the likes of warm goat cheese salad, clam chowder, mushroom risotto, and grilled lobster which grace the tabletops and excite the palates of teachers, parents, and students.

Take a left out of the Grill and venture into The Academy for Medical Science and Technology, home of our new Stem Cell Research Lab, where students use emerging technologies to work with embryonic stem cells to coax them into differentiating into various tissues including cardiac, immune, nervous, and lymphatic, with the potential to combat degenerative diseases. What distinguishes this laboratory from ordinary high school labs, is that it is staffed by two medical professionals, each with decades of experience in genetics and molecular biology. Students in AMST are learning medical diagnosis through the use of robotic patient simulators, typically reserved for training medical professionals. “Sim-Man” (robotic patient) can be programmed to exhibit symptoms of hundreds of medical conditions to challenge students to make accurate diagnoses based on symptoms obtained through sophisticated instrumentation. Students learn in theory and practice.

Venture into the nerve center of the Academy of Engineering and Design Technology and witness students bringing the blueprints they create in state-of-the-art graphic design programs to life with computerized 3D modeling machinery. Not only do students model their original ideas, but they also learn to reverse engineer existing designs in AutoDesk Inventor, and improve upon them in 3D StudioMax. Others are fine-tuning their BattleBots, as they prepare to battle in national robotic competitions. It is at these venues where BCA has not only won critical acclaim for its BattleBot designs, but also for its innovations in computer guided technology and robotic systems.

A visitor to the Academy of Business and Finance will find students versed in the use of SAP, the software that major manufacturers use to run their companies. Students in ABF are all Diploma Candidates in the International Baccalaureate Programme, arguably the most comprehensive and widely respected Liberal Arts degree worldwide. Students in ABF are actively engaged in the Fed Challenge, The Stock Market Game, and other project based activities that help them gain an insight into the workings of the international financial markets.

The Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology boasts a math team with hundreds of  members. Their passion for problem solving is evident through their practice schedule that includes Saturdays and Sundays. To these students, Mathematics and Science is a passion to be pursued full time—a passion which has garnered hundreds of awards.

The Academy for Computers and Telecommunications is also a futuristic take on education. Working with Cisco Systems, students build their own networks from the ground up. Students also are engaged in learning as they implement the latest telecommunication technologies by setting up telephony networks. They are versed in many different computer protocols and are prepared to work as network administrators before they enter college.

The Academy for Visual and Performing Arts boasts three powerful strands: music, art, and theatre. At the heart of the music program is a symphonic orchestra, a jazz band, and a host of other ensembles and quartets. The Academy Choir, which has been invited to the White House, has won National recognition for excellence. The Visual Arts Academy is outfitted with a complete 4-camera television studio, capable of broadcasting around the world. Students in the Academy for Visual and Performing Arts create animations, television shows, and short movies. They are constantly encouraged to test the boundaries of their imagination.

The challenge at BCA is not what to sample, but finding enough hours in the day to experience the countless opportunities for learning and self-growth. As a leader in the field of education, BCA proudly serves as a model for other schools that wish to take advantage of BCA’s many superior practices. The school welcomes other schools and educators who wish to see excellence in action each and every day. At Bergen County Academies, the future is bright indeed.#

Danny Jaye is Education Update’s “Outstanding Educator of the Year 2005” as well as former chair of the math department at Stuyvesant HS in NYC.



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