For most students at Gainesville High School, the first bell at 8:25 a.m. marks the start of classes. That’s not the case for Taylor Christian.
Christian arrives at school an hour before her classmates to begin the day. It’s her senior year, so the 17-year-old has to impress college admissions officers with her rigorous academic schedule. It starts with “zero period,” Advanced Placement micro and macroeconomics and continues through six other AP and Cambridge courses. The zero period starts an hour before the regular school day and allows students to pursue an extra course later in the day.
“They’re (college admissions officers) looking for everything,” Christian said. “You have to be good with everything.”
But with a growing number of students like Christian, who are filling their schedules with AP, International Baccalaureate and honors-level courses, elective classes in Alachua County are diminishing in class size and offerings.
Enrollment has recently risen in higher-level courses and diminished for elective courses, according to data from Karen Clarke, who oversees Alachua County Public Schools’ curriculum and structural services.
Marion County has seen a similar trend. Students there took 461 more AP exams in 2014 than they did in 2010.
Some students do not have time in their schedules to take art classes. To impress college admissions officers, students take more challenging classes to show they can handle the work load.
The typical well-rounded education of arts, humanities and sciences is starting to lean toward the latter two; that disappoints parents like Karen Clarke, who has a son in high school.
Clarke said she has seen her son make his schedule, and he’s trying to be as vigorous in his elective choices as Christian. He chose to take a science course over an art course because of the standards colleges are looking for. In Florida, this could be attributed to the state pushing its STEM program into the education system.
“Colleges want to see that.” Clarke said. “They want to see the academic challenge.”
However, this trend may not exist outside of Alachua and Marion counties. Data from Putnam County shows enrollment in elective courses versus in AP and honors courses has not changed much between 2010 and 2014. Enrollment in AP Spanish increased by two students, AP psychology increased by 10 students and honors pre-calculus dropped by 16 students.
As per Florida statute, public school students must earn 24 credits to graduate. Of those 24, they can choose eight elective credits throughout their four years in high school — two of which must go toward a foreign language. They can use those elective credits to take any class they want in a range of areas like sciences, arts, technology or physical education.
But now, students have fewer elective class periods to choose from, Clarke said. Before, an elective like painting would have three periods available to choose from. Now, it may only have one. Scheduling these classes has everything to do with enrollment. If students show interest in a class, the school may provide extra periods of that class so more students can take it. The same is true if students are not enrolling in classes — periods are removed.
Students are also making different decisions about electives. Instead of taking physics over photography, students are now choosing between a third year of Spanish or an honors or AP science class. An art elective may not even be in the equation for some students.
It’s almost a gamble. Students are deciding which class they think will be more attractive to admissions officers from the very start of their ninth grade year.
Christian almost laughs at the thought of taking an elective class like pottery. She said her time is better spent in AP and Cambridge classes, “which is bad because it’s true.”
When she was a junior, she filled one of her elective spots with a digital video class at Gainesville High School. She said she had a great teacher, and it felt good to have that in between her other rigorous classes. But after that year, her teacher Tony Malo was concerned he may have to offer fewer classes in the 2014-2015 year because enrollment was not as high as it had been in previous school years.
Malo said he noticed he was losing students to dual enrollment and Cambridge classes, so he had to recruit students himself in order to keep teaching the digital media classes. This year, he was able to reach the 30-student class enrollment requirement needed to keep his class going. But next year, it may be a struggle.
“I think schools don’t emphasize electives at all,” Christian said. “They don’t encourage you to take them. They don’t offer good ones.”
Gainesville High School Principal David Schelnutt said schools right now are not seeing a complete disappearance of elective course offerings but a restructure of them.
“Schools are trying to find creative ways to do that,” Schelnutt said. “But we also understand the importance of arts.”
Gainesville High offers a zero-period, which acts as a seventh period. It’s a course offered before the regular six-period school day begins, and Schelnutt said it gives students an opportunity to fit an elective, like drawing or theater, into their schedules.
Jordan Miles, a 17-year-old senior at Buchholtz High School, said she thinks college admission standards are a little high, but she understands they have to be in order to enroll the best students.
“It makes you want to work harder,” Miles said.
Along with honors pre-calculus, AP microeconomics and senior-level honors English, Miles found one free slot she filled with ceramics, an art class. She does not regret it; she said it’s her most relaxing class.
“I can put my focus into whatever project I’m working on,” Miles said.
She’s doing everything she can to maintain her straight A’s. She wants to major in marketing in college. But for now, she is waiting to receive admissions letters from universities across the country.
“I’m freaking out,” she said.
Erica A. Hernandez produced this update.
A recently released smartphone application allows potential dining customers to view the health inspection grades for their favorite restaurants.
The What The Health app was created exclusively for Georgia in July and became available to download in September. The app is now being used in 9 states. Florida’s version, What The Health – Florida for Apple users and Florida Health Scores for Android users, became available on Jan. 26.
Creators Jake Van Dyke and Chris Peoples came up with the idea to make an app that offers instant access to health inspections and restaurant information over dinner at a Georgia restaurant.
“The idea came out of personal necessity,” Van Dyke said. “We started looking up the information. We just realized that while the information is available on the county website, it’s not really easy to get to.”
They wrote a program to help gather all health inspection data from county websites to put in the app.
Van Dyke and Peoples have created versions of the app for nine states and Washington, D.C.
Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) does not assign grades to hotels or restaurants like Georgia and New York do. Florida’s health code follows the Food and Drug Administration Food Code, which requires a three-tier system for food safety and sanitation inspections, said Chelsea Eagle, deputy director of communications at the DBPR.
Categories are broken down by basic, intermediate and high priority violations that are made available to the public on the DBPR website.
The app’s scoring system is on a scale of 100. Basic violations result in a one-point deduction, intermediate violations result in two- or three-point deductions, and high priority violations result in a six-point deduction. Based on the deductions, restaurants can be given an A, B, C or U, the equivalent to a failing grade.
Eagle said the DBPR does not follow a grading scale because it provides incomplete information that can be misleading.
“Several states that grade don’t follow the same set of standards that we do,” she said. “(People) know when there’s a high priority violation. We’re providing consumers with a great deal of information of whether they want to eat there or not.”
The department is one of three in the state that regulates food safety and food operations. The Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also conduct health inspections, but the DBPR regulates restaurants, most mobile food trucks and most public food service events.
While Florida departments may not use a letter-grade scale to place a value on the level of service and health offered at restaurants, Peoples and Van Dyke created a grade scale to help users see how one restaurant compares to another. The app also lists dining locations based on proximity to the user.
“Having the information there in the app, it’s a whole lot easier to know before you even waste your time going somewhere,” Van Dyke said. “How they did on their inspections and if it’s somewhere you want to take your family or not.”
Kyle Griffin has dined at Peach Valley Café once a month for a year. He was surprised to find the restaurant with a U grade on the What The Health app.
“It gives you an idea of how clean the kitchen is,” Griffin said. “Most places aren’t going to have a 100 percent, but (the cafe’s grade) is a little surprising because it seems like more of an upper-scale place to eat.”
Peach Valley Café, at 3275 SW 34th St., received a score of 58 out of 100.
McAlister’s Deli and Chipotle Mexican Grill received passing grades of A and B, respectively. Other popular restaurants such as Chick-Fil-A were graded with a lower score of C. Tatu, a sushi restaurant on University Avenue, received a failing grade of U.
The grades assigned to Florida restaurants on What the Health are based on a grade scale used in Washington, D.C., where six critical violations will shut down a business on the spot. Six critical violations in Florida will automatically earn a restaurant a failing grade on the app, Van Dyke said.
For DBPR, there is no set number of violations that will close a business permanently, Eagle said.
“There are aggravating and mitigating factors that will result in an emergency closure such as sewage backup or pest infestation,” she said.
As for Peach Valley Café, since its inspection showed no critical violations, they will continue serving breakfast and brunch seven days a week.
Selena Sattler, a 20-year-old UF psychology sophomore, said she likes to reference the app if she’s visiting new places.
“I think having a grade attached to a place just makes it easier for someone like me to make a judgment call,” she said. “Do I want to eat at a place that got a C or an A?”
Ashlyn Reese produced this update.
Gainesville meal delivery service Eat The 80 launched a social media campaign last month that raised $3,000 to help families undergoing cancer treatment.
Eat The 80’s co-owner and business manager Chris “Boris” Marhefka owns a gym in Gainesville and came up with the idea of starting a healthy meal service after noticing his clients’ need for nutritional counseling. The company follows the 80/20 diet rule — 80 percent of meals should be healthy, and 20 percent can be anything the individual wants.
Eat The 80 has been delivering food for less than one year
“I always knew when we started this that this is going to be a good vehicle to give back in some way,” Marhefka said. “I had this goal to give away 500 meals to patients and their families undergoing cancer treatment.”
This goal became the idea for the Facebook campaign that helped start the Meals That Heal donation program. Eat The 80’s Facebook page had just reached 1,000 likes when the campaign idea formed.
Local business owners have also joined Marhefka in supporting Meals That Heal. Businesses like Dar Shackow Insurance Agency and New Scooters 4 Less donated $1 for every Facebook like over 1,000 Eat The 80 received in addition to their original donations.
Carlee Daylor, head of customer service at Eat The 80, said she took the campaign to social media after seeing the success of the viral ALS ice bucket challenge.
At the end of the one-week campaign, Eat The 80 raised $3,000 for meals to give away to families and reached its goal of 2,000 Facebook likes.
“We figured that we will be able to help at least four families initially with that money, probably closer to five, for a month,” Daylor said.
To select families to receive the donations, Eat The 80 set up a page on its site where people who know of families in need can nominate free-meal recipients.
“We’ve already received some, and it’s very powerful to read what people are going through and just to know that we’re going to be able to provide (them) food,” Parker said.
Eat The 80 announced on Facebook that it would soon share about the families receiving meals. Instead of posting the families’ names, the company plans to release generic snapshots of each family.
Daylor said she does not want people to feel like charity cases.
“We’ve noticed that it’s not usually the families nominating themselves,” she said. “It’s people who love them and want to see them have some normalcy back in their lives that tend to nominate.”
One of the families receiving meals was nominated anonymously through the Eat The 80 website.
One 27-year-old diagnosed with a rare form of cancer was nominated anonymously by a peer.
“She’s fighting but can use all the help she can get,” the nominator wrote in the application. “She had just completed her first semester of college when she got her diagnosis, and I want to see her walk across that stage with a degree. She’s a strong, beautiful, resilient woman, and I want to see her beat this.”
“Where we’re at now is the communication process,” Daylor said. “We’ve had the people apply, and we have five solid families. Now, it’s just picking dates of when they want to get started.”
Eat The 80 has yet to give out any free meals but is working closely with the families to plan schedules. In the mean time,over 1,000 meals will be delivered each week to about 207 members.
Eat The 80 works with Cacciatore Catering in the Haile Village Center. Chef and owner Dean Cacciatore comes up with a seasonal menu that includes organic vegetables from Crones’ Cradle Foundation, said Pamela Parker, the social media manager for Eat The 80.
The food is prepped and packaged by the Eat The 80 team and delivered to its six pick-up locations in Gainesville and Lake City or to directly to members’ homes.
“I know that our reach was far beyond just the Gainesville community,” Daylor said. “More people know who we are and what we do and that we’re so much more than a meal delivery company.”
To donate or nominate a friend or family member for the program, visit Eat The 80.
A new agriculture facility in Archer will focus on increasing conservation efforts and maintaining the local water supply. City officials said the initiative began when they noticed that high amounts of nitrates in raw sewage were harming the drinking water supply.
Congressman Ted Yoho and other elected officials from Alachua County helped acquire the $644,000 plot of land for the facility. Its 74 acres will host a wildlife habitat for conservation methods, recreational items such as hiking and horseback riding trails and a new wastewater management facility.
City Manager Al Grieshaber said 90 percent of the park will be returned to native Florida habitat for the enjoyment of all the residents of Archer and the surrounding areas.
University officials decided that Norman Hall, the University of Florida’s education building for over 80 years, is in need of a renovation.
Glenn Good, dean of the College of Education, said the facilities are out-of-date and do not have the 21st-century capabilities necessary to teach future educators.
Beyond the outdated equipment, the building shows symptoms of long-time wear, such as peeling paint, damaged windows, pipe breaks and electrical problems. It is still running off mechanics from when it opened, in 1932.
University officials are currently waiting for the state to approve funding.