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Career Academies Model Curriculum

November 2001

Pomona, CA -- The Village Academy High School at Indian Hill in Pomona, California is an experiment in renewal. Housed in a converted shopping mall, this public high school provides willing students a personalized learning plan, a high tech environment, and real work experience. The Academy is a new educational paradigm, blending challenging courses, work opportunities, and a community of support to motivate students. The "lessons learned" in this school will improve the learning experience for all of the district's 34,000 students.

"This is not an exercise to see if we can help 120 children," says Raymond G. Harder, Director of the Technology and Media Academy. "This is a proving ground to see what works, to revitalize the local economy, and to scale it up to the other 34,000 [students]."

School Choice
In September 2001, 120 self-selected ninth-grade students began their journey at the Village Academy. Last spring, the Pomona Unified School District sent letters to all eighth-grade students and held meetings with parents, telling them about the new school and encouraging them to apply. Each student wrote an essay about his/her interest in the Academy. The 120 students who were selected chose from one of four academic areas of study: media and technology, health and medical science, energy and transportation, and education and teaching.

According to Cindy Walkenbach, Director of Academy Coordination, the majority of students applied because they wanted to learn about technology and plan to go to college. Their parents overwhelmingly listed the smaller environment as the motivation. A new freshman class will be added each year, reaching a total of 500 students in four years.
" It's not for everyone," cautions Walkenbach. "If you want to be the cheerleader and join all the clubs, the more traditional high school is a better choice. The district is trying to offer students and parents different options. They have a choice about their learning environment."

State-of-the-Art Technology
Many students were attracted to the Academy Village by the promise of access to technology. The high school has about a 2 to 1 student to computer ratio, but Harder is pushing for a 1 to 2 ratio. He wants every student to have a computer at home as well as at school, and works with partners through the Village at Indian Hill to make this vision reality.

When the Village partnered with the local community college, they shared the cost for new computers. The Academy uses them during the day and the community college has access to the facilities for evening classes. State-of-the-art conference facilities create their own revenue stream to support and sustain technology while giving students high-tech work experience in supporting and maintaining the equipment. The high school has proven their value to high tech partners such as Apple, Compaq, Cisco, AT&T, and CompUSA.

A Challenging Curriculum
Academic specialization has given the district an opportunity to model career-based curriculum as a way of motivating students to learn.

"Many kids don't see the connection between what they're doing in school and the outside world," says Walkenbach. "By delivering academic work in the context of a career, they understand the value of what they are learning. It makes more sense to them. We use a lot of project-based, integrated, and applied curriculum."

The curriculum meets all state standards and prepares students for the California High School Exit Exam. Electives offer challenging and often technical classes based on the four career areas of the Academy. To give students a head start on professional certifications and college credits, the curriculum is articulated with vocational, adult, and higher education programs. In addition, each student must complete an apprenticeship and a paid internship based on their Academy "major."

When students graduate, they will have the experience and technical skills to pursue further education and find skilled jobs to support themselves. Village at Indian Hill utilizes their skilled student workforce to attract businesses back to the community as well.
" The Academy will encourage students to stay in town and to contribute to the well being of the community rather than leaving," says Harder.

Starting Small
As a smaller school, the Academy has flexibility with the master schedule to offer classes in longer blocks of time or on certain days of the week. Students experience a more concentrated lesson, then a chance to apply it.

All of the Academy teachers are credentialed and have non-academic work experience in one of the career fields. For example, the biology teacher worked in the medical care field, and a math teacher has 25 years of business experience. Each teacher is responsible for developing the learning plan for a group of students. Technology can provide test data and feedback to identify learning gaps, but teachers provide the care and guidance to help students address those gaps and develop plans for the future.

Teachers work in interdisciplinary teams to support students. They have common planning time to discuss strategies for infusing English and math into all courses, and to develop the interdisciplinary projects that are a hallmark of the school's curriculum.

Scaling Up
Walkenbach's goal is to build a broad range of sequenced classes for students by partnering with San Antonio Regional Occupational Program, the district's adult school, and Mt. San Antonio Community College. By linking programs, several benefits occur: opportunities open up for students of all ages to access academy classes, no gaps occur in the technical curriculum, and the costs of equipment and facilities can be shared.

According to Walkenbach: "Right now we're creating a matrix to show the classes offered by each entity in the four career majors. Once we see what's in place and analyze the skills taught, we'll be able to fill in the gaps with new classes and experiences. This will ensure that students can receive meaningful certifications, be well-prepared for entry-level jobs, and continue with post-secondary education."

For Harder and Walkenbach, success at the Academy Village means potential success for all children in the district. They envision an academy at each of the four corners of the town and academy foundation courses based on career areas in all of the schools. Motivated students with working skills will be an asset to the community and a source of renewal.

Student Comments

"We have a small school but with a lot of high-tech programs." Teresa

"All the teachers are caring and they love to teach. And it is a good place to learn." Alex

"They have new computers and we could go on the Internet. The teachers are nice." Michael

"We have our own computers. I also think we are not over crowded, we have many possibilities to learn and to have a better education." Yesenia

"We are consistently doing projects. Negativity must be left at the door. We study more than any school in Pomona. We are the next generation to develop the world, so we participate in group activities for advanced skills in different subjects." Dawne