How Every Student Succeeds in a Career Academy School

by Whitney Aragaki

Could you identify a career path when you were in high school? Were you able to recognize the skills and traits in your teenage years that would make you successful in your current job? Would your journey to your dream career have been easier if you started preparing in tenth grade?

Today, career academy schools are on the rise. These schools streamline their student populations into groupings based on interest and career goals. They build personalized programs of study and help students make more informed post-high school decisions. In Hawaii, there is a consortium of fifteen high schools that expound on this model to fulfill the needs in their own communities.

 Graduated seniors from Waiakea High's Career Academies. Mrs. Aragaki teaches an AP Research course for seniors.
Graduated seniors from Waiakea High’s Career Academies. Mrs. Aragaki teaches an AP Research course for seniors.
 Public Services Academy students at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Conference in Honolulu, 2016.
Public Services Academy students at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Conference in Honolulu, 2016.
 Cultivating Careers Day 2017 for incoming Waiakea high school students. Career presenters were mostly (all pictured) alumni.
Cultivating Careers Day 2017 for incoming Waiakea high school students. Career presenters were mostly (all pictured) alumni.

In the state, there is a strong push for CCCR – college, career, and community readiness – and the career academy model answers the call for all students. To expound on this argument, let’s focus on six “Friends”, one or more who may have been similar to your classmates, or even yourself.

Ross is the typical strong student. Always hitting the books, on the honors/Advanced Placement track, but not the most involved in other activities. In a school with career academies, Ross would still be able to take the honors programs, but electives would be offered to develop his communication skills, hone his paleontology interests, and also offer a senior capstone course that would challenge his academic skills with a culminating research project with a local mentor. Ross would graduate with honors and have a college application that appeals to Top 10 universities looking for students who go above and beyond the curricular day.

Rachel shows great interest in fashion but would rather chase boys than books. She finds little relevance in core subjects when they are taught in isolation. In a career academy, Rachel would take core and elective classes with classmates that share her career interest, and have teachers that tailor their lessons to a specific population. While on this academy track, Rachel would be encouraged to also take business classes that would develop her entrepreneurial skills and help her build her brand in the future.

Phoebe is the dreamer and the artist. Often, she is found with a guitar in her lap and not a care in the world. Although others might have told her that a musician would not make much money, a career academy model would value her interest as it would a doctor or a lawyer. Career academies treat all careers with significance and worth because students are not compared across the board. This personalization fosters Phoebe’s growth in the arts throughout her high school years, where she is able to present an authentic musical composition to her peers and the community in her senior year.

Joey would someday become a soap opera actor with a stroke of luck, but in high school he shows little interest in academics or any type of job. In career academy schools, every student must choose an academy to be a part of. Joey is the type of student that career academies can drastically change. By placing him on a structured path, this academy ensures that Joey takes his core classes but also elective courses directed to a potential career path. The carpentry and woodworking classes Joey takes are dual credit courses with the local community college, and gives him advanced standing if he were to take that path. However, after his senior project demonstration, he acknowledges he is not interested in the carpentry field and would rather pursue a career in modeling and acting. This cost-free experience in high school saves Joey thousands of dollars and a few years of frustration.

Chandler is the student who sits in the middle of the class, blending into the background while more outspoken peers take the teacher’s attention. Rather than allow him to float through four years unnoticed, his career academy adviser is able to translate his aptitude for numbers and his ability to work well with different peers into a career in advertising rather than setting him up for years of meandering through IT procurement.

Monica shows aptitude for science and math, but her lack of confidence can limit her exploration into new fields. Through career academy offerings, Monica signs up for an introductory tech course, Women in STEM, a course that can only be offered with the academy model and master schedule variety. Monica is able to recognize how to transverse STEM pathways that lead her to investigate options for future success as a food technologist as pursue her hobby of molecular gastronomy.

These students are sitting in a classroom near you – perhaps overlooked, perhaps undervalued. Perhaps you can see yourself in one of their stories. With a little guidance from a school mindset shift, our students will individually have the chance to be recognized and appreciated for their own intelligence and interests. They will be the driving force for new industries and thriving communities of the future.

Support a local career academy school – reach out to assist in senior project mentoring, serve on a career panel, or offer an internship.  This is an initiative that every career pathway can support. Chances are, the future star of your company is right in your community, ready to shine.

Whitney is a high school science teacher at Waiakea High School on Hawai’i Island. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, serves on the Hawai’i State Science Work Group, and is a part of the Hawai’i District Science and Engineering Fair Steering Committee. A former Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fund Aspiring Teachers of Color and National Science Foundation GK-12 Graduate Fellow, she was born and raised on Hawai’i Island. Whitney has a BA in Biology from Swarthmore College, and an MS in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science from the University of Hawai’i at Hilo.