Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview
Overview of Fayetteville, AR

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Academies Reinvent Local High Schools

Bentonville, which will soon be the largest high school in Arkansas with 3,000 students and a 600,000-square foot behemoth school, has decided to adopt the concept of the career academy to structure classes for students. This concept is important in an area striving to achieve excellence in public education. Many people move here from elsewhere and ask about the private schools. Our best schools are the public schools.

The academies come in two forms: wall-to-wall, where every student must enroll in an academy and there are many choices, and pocket academies, where enrollment is optional and there are fewer academies from which to choose. The Bentonville School District is following the wall-to-wall model for its academies. Ninth-graders will start in the freshmen academy, and will attend classes on the same floor and work with the same core group of 40 teachers. The program will focus on helping students decide which academy to join in their sophomore year. Some of the available disciplines are business, fine arts, mathematics, and human life sciences.

The career academy model for high schools has existed since 1969, but the concept wasn’t pioneered in Arkansas until 1998 when the Springdale School District opened a medical academy with 30 students. The trend spread in Northwest Arkansas, with Rogers and Fayetteville adopting the model. Administrators of at least 15 of the state’s biggest high schools are reinventing their schools through the academy approach, a trend educators say will continue. More than 1,500 career academies nationwide create schools within schools by centering students and instruction in focused, career-themed clusters. But they have not universally succeeded. The system floundered in Fayetteville, and it may be on the way out in Fort Smith.

There are pros and cons of academy models. Many principals and superintendents say that as a school grows larger, it becomes necessary to find ways to connect to individual students. Otherwise, it’s too easy for students to slip through the cracks. Large schools must search for ways to create smaller learning communities within the schools. The smaller learning communities allow students to take classes with the same group of peers and teachers. Proponents say career academies offer an alternative to the isolation that can accompany a mega-high school. Students become more interested in their courses and have greater success after graduation.

Opponents say career academies are too much like vocational programs, which traditionally do not receive a lot of community support. Some parents think the academies would not be good preparation for college. Other parents don’t want their kids to have to decide too early on a career path. However, a 2004 study by MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan social policy organization based in New York, found that “Career academies are one of the few youth-focused interventions that have been found to improve the labor market prospects of young men.”

Administrators at Fayetteville High School introduced pocket academies in 2003, but then dropped the program two years later. Principal Randy Willison said only 80 students enrolled in an academy during the program’s second year. The academy needed a minimum of 120 participants to justify keeping it, Willison said.

Source www.nwanews.com February 12, 2006

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