MIDWAY, Utah (AP) - It's 10 a.m. on a school day, and 16-year-old Alycia Carmichael is dripping wet in a swimming suit
and scuba fins, defogging a snorkeling mask.
You know, why not learn how to dive?" she asks casually, swishing her feet through the sulfur-rich water of Midway's
Homestead Crater. It's real-world learning and way cooler than going to class."
Technically, though, Carmichael is still at school.
Every January, students at Karl G. Maeser Preparatory Academy, a public charter school in Pleasant Grove, take a
three-week break from traditional math, English and science instruction to explore a career field first hand.
Carmichael is toying with the idea of diving into underwater photography after graduation, so she, along with about a
dozen of her classmates, opted to use the time to get scuba certified. Other students tried filmmaking, started
businesses, took up karate, shadowed doctors, worked with college professors doing medical research and argued mock
legal cases - among other things.
Students can choose from teacher-sponsored activities, such as scuba,
or, like one student who traveled to Australia to study the great barrier reef, design their own internships. Everyone
earns a grade and credit toward graduation.
In high school, kids have to focus on a lot of things at the same time," said Justin Kennington, headmaster. In high
school, though, kids are also trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. It's really great to be able
to spend a little time just doing one thing, going in depth."
The internship program, which Maeser calls Winterim," is possible because charter schools, though run on public money,are freed from some of the restrictions traditional district-run schools must adhere to. Most district schools, for
example, are required to hold school for 990 hours during a minimum of 180 days. When the State Board of Education
approved parent-formed Maeser Academy's charter, the 180-day regulation was waived.
Because charter schools are supposed to be little education laboratories, the board is willing to make exceptions on
certain rules more readily," said Carol Lear, director of school law and legislation for the State Office of Education.
The theory is, they get more freedom so they can experiment with alternative education methods."
To compensate for fewer days in the classroom, Maeser Academy implements a longer school day for the rest of the
Teachers also try to weave math, science and history into their programs so students don't fall behind on core subjects
during Winterim, said Toni Fairchild, 30, the chemistry teacher at Karl Maeser who planned the scuba diving
There's a lot to learn about diving," she said. You've got to know the science behind compressed air. You use
critical thinking skills to regulate the nitrogen levels in your blood."
Maser Academy's Winterim is primarily funded by parents. This year, parents pitched in between $25 and $3,000 per
student, depending on what their child chose to do.