The three Rs of education may not be enough to compete in today’s global market.
Whether high school graduates plan to attend college or enter the work force, school officials say having career-specific knowledge could offer more of a competitive edge.
With that in mind, the Forsyth County school system will test a career academy program in two high schools next year.
“We’re going to start with baby steps,” said Gary Davison, principal at Lambert High School. “We eventually want to develop it to a point where the kids work on their core area classes together, take similar electives, internships ... and have a chance to develop some depth into their curriculum fields.”
The academy concept is similar to the pathway program, which encourages students to take specific electives geared toward their interests. But the academies take it a step further.
Instead of career-focused electives, students enrolled in an academy program also will take special math and English/language arts classes geared toward their specific interest.
For example, Lambert will offer a business academy focusing on marketing and finance when the new high school, the district’s fifth, opens in August.
Academy students may learn percentages and statistics in math class. But instead of just learning to solve problems, they will be taught how to apply those math concepts to managing a business or payroll.
“Students that are reading the requirements for English/language arts, when possible, will connect them to the business world,” said Genise Tworek, work force development director.
“Career tech teachers will be sitting down with English and math teachers and looking at their standards and talking about how they can teach these concepts so students see the relativity.”
Participating math and English/language arts teachers will have the same planning periods as career tech teachers, allowing them to combine the state-required lessons with practical skills in elective classes.
Career tech teachers also attend training offered by the state and work with local businesses to keep up with the latest trends.
Forsyth Central High School will offer an auto tech-focused transportation academy, as well as one in arts and humanities that will be centered on drama.
“The skills that are acquired in drama — the speaking, the presentation, the ability to write ... are going to benefit the students no matter what career they choose in the future,” Tworek said.
Central sophomore Sally Petty is certain drama has helped her.
“I know I’ve opened up a lot more, especially ... presentations in class, speeches and vocal projection,” she said. “I know ... I relate drama to things we read in literature class.”
The program will be open only to incoming freshmen, so Petty won’t be able to join. It’s also too late for Avery Rabbit, a junior at Central who said she hopes the academy will encourage current middle schoolers.
“The arts are kind of dying at schools, especially public schools, and we’re constantly competing against larger, private schools like Marist, so it’s nice to have this encouragement,” Rabbit said.
“Kids that are serious about theater will be ones to pursue it, not kids looking for an easy ‘A’ or just some elective to be thrown into.”
While the programs are designed to give an edge to students with specific career goals, the academies do not offer perks to students beyond the class settings.
For example, all students can audition for plays, and being part of the drama academy does not necessarily translate to being cast.
Davison said he saw the academy setup at Dunwoody High School.
“With my experience with another school, it’s been real positive,” he said. “The balance piece is still there. Kids who are choosing to stay rather broad in their perspective, they still have that opportunity to do that. This doesn’t take any breadth away from anyone who wants to pursue that.”
Lisa Kirk, marketing education instructor at Lambert, said the program is more challenging for teachers, who will need to add an additional planning component to their day.
“It really takes cooperation and dedication from teachers. That’s probably why other schools don’t do it,” she said. “But this is very forward-thinking and all research that supports these career academies shows amazing results of amplified benefits.
“Some of the things we teach are at a college level.”
Both Davison and Kirk said feedback from parents has been positive. That includes Laura McCormack.
McCormack’s oldest daughter Laurel, who graduated from Central last year, was active in the drama department.
“I think that she got a lot out of it,” she said. “Even now that she’s at Mercer, for a class project, she wrote a musical. She gained a lot of skills that she’s put to use in college that she learned from the drama department.”
McCormack said career academies could be the way of the future, noting that students may be “happier if they can have more of a choice and feel there’s more of a direction in their coursework.”
McCormack’s youngest daughter, Katie, likely will follow in her sister’s footsteps. Though she’s only in sixth grade, McCormack said she’s “doing a lot of drama stuff now, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s interested in doing that in high school.”
Marlo Miranda, auto tech instructor at Forsyth Central High School, played a key role in the transportation academy program.
“We started talking seriously about it last year when we realized we really needed to find a better way to integrate our academic curriculum with our career classes,” he said. “We will collaborate on how to develop lessons that students will be interested in on both ends.
“We’re trying to work to get our students better prepared, not only for the work force, but also to let them know how important the core curriculum is.”
The combination of work force training in core class work and career classes could pay long-range dividends. With more training in chemistry and engineering, aspiring auto technicians may aim to work for NASCAR or even NASA.
“The old school thought was that career tech was a dumping ground,” Kirk said. “Now, it’s a driving force.”
E-mail Jennifer Sami at firstname.lastname@example.org.