Helping Students Make Informed Choices

“What is an Academy?” “What is a pathway?” “What if I don’t like any of these choices?” These are a few questions that second semester ninth graders ask even after participating in the Freshman Seminar, a year-long web-based curriculum that exposes the students to all the career academies that are offered in the district, and highlights the career academies that are offered at Cane Ridge High School. Nashville also hosts a city-wide Career Exploration Fair that is organized through the school district and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.

The Fair builds on career exploration research that they did in school including participating in an essay contest and learning about professionalism in the workplace. Students visit with volunteers from industry and participate in hands-on activities. And still, ninth graders see themselves as just part of the Freshman Academy.  They do not fully understand that they will select a career academy that will be part of their high school experience for the next three years.  Parents may also be concerned that their child is asked to “select a major” in 10th grade.

NSOP 1, Section b. Student Aspirations reads in part “... Continued personal awareness and exploration, along with curriculum and experiential components and extracurricular choices, also help to provide guidance. The biggest limiting factor in many youths’ future plans is not ability, but how they perceive their future.”

Cane Ridge High School in Nashville, Tennessee makes sure that students are properly equipped to make an informed decision about their career academy selection. Principal Michel Sanchez believes that student-informed choice is a priority. Ms. Sanchez, a Model Academy Principal remarked, “Selecting a career academy is a not a one-day event with a guidance counselor. Communication, planning and design of programs has to take place to make sure that 9th graders can make an informed decision when they select their academy.”

Making sure students understand their career options is also important for John A. Dubiski High School in Grand Prairie, Texas. Dubiski hosts fifteen pathways arranged into three academies. Principal Larry Jones discussed a common problem that can arise when students don’t understand the career options, “Teachers in pathways were upset that students were not interested in their programs.  Students were upset because they didn’t know what was offered, what the course work would be like and didn’t have a clear direction for high school. Some students chose a pathway because their friend was going into that pathway or because they thought they might like that career.  We needed a way to showcase all of the different possibilities Dubiski offered and do it in a way that really got students engaged.”  

To help students make educated choices, Dubiski High School established a program that showcased the different pathways available for students. At this event, industry professionals, talk to students about their career and school staff discuss what it’s like to be in the pathway. On a larger scale, students also participate in the GPISD Experience. As an open enrollment district, educating more than 29,000 students each year, GPISD invites students from across the Metroplex to attend any school for free. Starting as early as Pre-K and continuing through high school. It’s an opportunity for parents and students from all over the district to explore and discover the perfect educational setting or choice of pathway for their child.

Principal Jones notes, “the GPISD Experience is a ‘test drive’ of the different schools and programs, and it is also the opening of our application process where we can really highlight our academies and attract students. But we have also noticed that the number of students who request pathway changes is minimal.” 

NSOP 2 Academy Design, Section b. Student Selection promotes the idea that, “…students are provided an orientation to the academy based upon their own talents, aspirations and interests. Parents or guardians participate in this process and approve of the choice made by their son or daughter…” The GPISD Experience helps students make informed choices and at the same time, allays the concerns of parents who may be worried that their child has to decide on a career path in the 10th grade.

Schools should offer multiple experiential learning opportunities to engage students in thinking about their future career. The ideas outlined above (career fairs, shadowing, Freshman Seminar Course) all help students choose an Academy that is right for them and in doing so, helps create the conditions necessary for a successful high school experience. But it is also important to design Academies that have broad themes that integrate challenging academics with career and technical electives that are relevant to many careers. The promise of academies is to make learning relevant, to use the theme or career focus of the academy to teach “through.” Thereby ending the familiar, “Why do I need to learn this?”



Case Story: 008

These Case Studies were collected at the 2018 NCAC Model Principal Collective, and compiled by Constance Majka (NCAC). The Model Principal Collective was attended by principals of NCAC Model Academies from across the country and sponsored by the Turner Family Foundation, Harold K. L. Castle Foundation, Hawaii USA Credit Union, Deloitte, First Tennessee Bank, and the College and Career Academy Support Network. Thank you to all of our sponsors and the Model Academy Principals who participated and shared with us!