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Why academies work

As part of SmartBrief Education’s coverage of career and technical education and Path to Workforce, we’ve teamed with ACTE to share articles written by Educators in Action.

Demauri was a freshman in an Advanced Placement US History class. I am not sure why freshmen are offered AP US History, and she was going to decide what she wanted to do with the rest of her high school career and life.  This is where I came in. It was my duty as lead teacher of the engineering academy to recruit students into the pathway, particularly females, due to the low representation of females in STEM.

I began telling her class about the robotics, computer-aided drafting, structural engineering, architecture and construction-related projects they would study during their time in the Environmental and Urban Planning Academy. Many students simply nodded their heads and seemed interested, but their glossed-over eyes told a different story. Then came the time to tour the engineering and architecture classrooms and some of those glossy-eyed students became very interested.

With 3-D printers, classroom computers for every student, a converted wood/metal shop, co-teaching spaces and an electronics classroom, the students had much to wow about. I understand that many schools may not have those facilities at their start, but neither did we.

As she walked through the classrooms, Demauri began to ask questions about what she would learn and what careers would fit with the EUP academy. I can remember the moment she saw the table saw and how it hooked her. Now admittedly, the table saw is a great tool, but amongst the other resources we had, I couldn’t understand why she was so impressed with learning to use it. I have since realized that it wasn’t the table saw per se but the idea that she — an inner city minority youth — would learn to use woodworking tools in combination with regular academic materials that really grabbed her.

From there, Demauri signed up for the EUP academy and went on to be an academy ambassador for two years, win numerous scholarships from industry-related mentoring groups, receive nine hours of dual credit for CTE classes, and ultimately be accepted to an architecture program at a university, which she is currently attending.

She recently came back to my classroom to lead a design charrette. This was completely unplanned and was exactly what the students were looking to do instead of my CAD assignment of the complex gear system.  To say I was proud of her would be a massive understatement; I was taken aback by how a simple tour and an opportunity for a student can create a ripple of positive energy that was never imagined.

The academy model gave Demauri an identity — an identity she embraced and which took her to places I am sure she never imagined. That same academy model is continuing to change the lives of thousands of students every day. From increasing graduation rates to creating a passion for students to attend school, academies have a vital place in education, and Demauri is just one example of how they can change a child’s path.

Adam Guidry is a lead teacher in the Academy of Environmental and Urban Planning at Glencliff High School in Nashville, Tenn.

SmartBrief Education’s Path to Workforce content series brings you original content and events on the topic. #Path2W is our vision of college and career readiness, encompassing K-12, adult learners, career changers, non-traditional students and those who forgo a traditional four-year college experience.

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