High School Academies: Finding a Place for Everyone

As an administrator at Lancaster High School, I am always seeking to help students find their place. In my experience, students perform at higher levels when they feel comfortable and a part of the school community. To provide these opportunities, our school has created academies that are tailored to certain career paths. We offer a variety of experiences so that students can choose an area that best fits the vocation they have in mind.

Our Academy Structure

Academies—or small learning communities—encourage students to get involved in not only their daily education plan but extracurricular activities linked to the academy as well. The academy programs have cohorts of students collaborating as a team. They work with their teachers and with community and business leaders toward common career and postsecondary goals. They are able to work with other students who have similar interests and are all striving to succeed in their future endeavors. The academies allow students more opportunities to build relationships and to be celebrated for their efforts. Academy cohorts are not together for just one class, one semester, or even one year; at our school these students work together on academy curricula for three years.

Benefits of an Academy

We’ve found that our academies provide numerous benefits for our students. Here are the top three:

  • Career path identification: Students may either pursue their academy career at the postsecondary level or choose a different career path based on their experiences. Either of these outcomes can save a lot of money and time and provide an invaluable experience.
  • College and Career Readiness: The curriculum includes internships for most academies and coursework that provides students college credit and soft skills that are highly beneficial. These experiences build skill sets that can help students successfully complete college efficiently and/or gain solid employment.
  • Practical experiences that enhance classroom instruction: Student learning experiences within the academies are often project-based and related to “real life” applications. The curriculum is often linked to what a student can expect at a worksite or in higher education.

How to Determine Which Academies Are Right for Your School

Academies can connect to almost every career and also offer unique experiences that benefit any path. You can choose to link your school with already established organizations that provide a structure for curriculum and internships, such as the National Academy Foundation. Or you can establish your own format and curriculum when creating an academy. At our school we have created these seven academies that offer a home to more than 40 percent of our school population:

  • Project Lead the Way (Engineering): Our engineering-focused academy allows students access to STEM curricula that prepares them for an engineering major in college. Visit the Project Lead the Way websiteto learn more about this program.
  • Academy of Finance: Membership to the National Academy Foundation helps students gain NAF certification, which gives them priority for interviews with some Fortune 500 companies.
  • Healthcare: Coursework includes medical terminology, medical ethics, and human anatomy/physiology in this academy. Students can potentially earn college credit through agreements with local colleges.
  • Hospitality and Tourism: Linked to a nearby college, this academy allows students to complete coursework preparing them for a career in the industry.
  • Leadership: This one-of-a-kind academy supports the development of student leaders, equipping them with the management and organizational skills to excel in a wide range of career paths.
  • Trades: Our newest academy offers curricular and practical experiences preparing students for careers in the manufacturing and construction industries.
  • Visual and Performing Arts: Coursework and opportunities in this academy prepare students to pursue a career in music or art.

We are always considering ways to improve our current academies as well as add new ones. To improve, we are currently working to have each academy CTE certified through the New York State Education Department Career and Technical Certification Program. As far as what academy will be offered next? This will likely come from the suggestions of our student body who sees the value of these small learning communities and all they offer.

If academies are of interest to you, feel free to contact me at tadamec@lancasterschools.org. If you have academies at your school, I would love to compare notes and hear your stories as well. I believe everyone can find benefit from the academy model, which helps students explore their interests and become part of a community that will position them for future career success.

Terry Adamec is an assistant principal at Lancaster High School in Lancaster, NY serving approximately 1,850 students in grades 9–12. She has been in education for 26 years, 24 of which have been at Lancaster where she began as a special educator prior to her 12 years as assistant principal. Terry is the 2018 New York State Assistant Principal of the Year.

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