At the beginning of the 2016/2017 school year, Gwinnett County Public Schools will have seven academy high schools. So what is an academy school, and why is this becoming the new norm in education?
In GCPS, the academy model is all about the four R’s: Relationships, Rigor, Relevance, and Readiness. Students are given the opportunity to select one academy either during 9th grade registration or 10th grade registration, depending on the school. In the academy, students are able to build relationships with teachers who will help them see academics through the lens of a career field. For example, for students in the Fine Arts Academy, math class would not just be about solving for x; instead, those students would demonstrate how solving for x is applied in dance, media, or communication studies.The academy model takes a core area of study and makes it relevant to students. By allowing students to draw connections between academics and careers, the rigor of the course is strengthened, and teachers can attack the Academic Knowledge and Skills (AKS) in a very purposeful way.
Let’s face it– creating purpose with for each concept learned has been one of the biggest struggles for teachers. For example, in 10th grade world history the content focuses on ancient civilizations. How can a teacher meet the course’s academic expectations while also making sure he/she gives students the opportunity to connect that topic to the academy? Mr. Al Taylor, principal of Berkmar High School, suggests in this case that the teacher could allow students in the Architecture and Construction Academy to compare the tools and materials used to construct the buildings in ancient civilizations to tools and materials used today. With this academy focus topic for research, the language arts class could then craft an informational and comparison paper.
This is the beauty of the academy model: by using an academy lens to teach concepts, the work students do is relevant to them. Let’s be real– as classroom teachers, we know that if the students see purpose in the assignment and if they are interested in the topic, then the students are more likely to meet the project expectations set before them, and therefore learn the AKS.
So where do you go from here? This is our chance to reinvigorate our work, stop doing the same-old-same-old, and strive to improve our craft by seeing our content area through the lens of the academy! As educators, part of our role is to inspire students and model learning, and we can do that now by modeling how even we can learn something new! Certainly change can be scary, but just because we are educators doesn’t mean we have to have all of the answers. We may not know how our content area fits into a particular academy theme, but we can create connections by collaborating with others and challenging our students to find that connection, thus changing our role from “sage on the stage” to facilitator. How awesome is that?!
Sources "5 Academies, 1 Mission." Berkmar High School. Berkmar High School, n.d. Web. 19 May 2016. <http://berkmaronline.com/academy/berkmar-academies-overview/>. http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqNMUSeHDUJ9E9_qYFq5CFQ. "GCPS Academies." YouTube. YouTube, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 19 May 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNGIQs2jIWs>.