Downcounty Consortium brings academies to Blair

Sept. 28, 2004, midnight | By Anuja Shah | 15 years, 3 months ago

Programs offer educational alternatives to all

Beginning this year, Blair is offering five career-oriented academies to incoming freshmen as part of the Downcounty Consortium: Media Literacy; Science, Math and Technology; Entrepreneurship; International Studies and Human Services Professions.

These academies are designed to help students "both eliminate and discover potential career choices," according to Academies Coordinator Susan Ragan. Upon accumulation of four academy-recognized credits, students will be eligible for a unique academy certificate. Freshmen will learn about each academy in their newly required Connections classes and decide in which academy to enroll when registering for sophomore year classes.

Unlike Blair's application-based Communication Arts and Magnet programs, academy programs are interest-based and open to all students. Ragan believes that students interested in a particular field "should be able to explore that passion whether they got into the Magnet or not."

Although the academies focus chiefly on directing students' choices of electives (the academy has no set of specialized core classes as do the CAP and Magnet), new elective classes open to non-academy students have been developed for the programs. Obtaining an academy certificate involves acquiring only four academy-honored elective credits. In addition, students are expected to create a portfolio of their work within the academies.

Additionally, Academy students will participate in internships to which they are referred through the program. "Through the academies, students will receive real-world, authentic learning experiences," enthuses Ragan. "They will have more opportunities" because the academies assign them to local cooperative internships as part of their required coursework. Students outside of the academies must often apply for half-day schedules to participate in internships, which may not be related to their desired field of study.

Among other advantages, says engineering technology teacher James Distler, is the flexibility of the academies, which "eliminate tracking. If a student starts out on one track and wants to move to another," an inter-academy shift is possible. This also enables students to move "between tracks without detracting from concentration on basic skills," like math, which are necessary for a good educational foundation. He hopes one of the goals of the academies will be to achieve a compromise where flexibility does not come at the expense of focus. As he acknowledges, the Academies are "still in a state of flux, a growing stage. We still have a lot of planning to do, but our goal is to offer good, solid programs" for students who want to pursue careers in academy germane fields.

Derek Sontz, who teaches an Entrepreneurship class, echoes Distler's acknowledgment of academy progression, adding, "achieving perfection is a team effort. The academies are progressing slowly, but surely."

"The fundamental concept is good," agrees Jody Zepp, head of the International Studies Academy. Ideally, the program will help students "see and build their future," says Zepp, who also notes that academy enrollment will lend its students a commonality, thus contributing to what she hopes will develop into a sense of sincere fraternity.

As Ragan explains, the founding ideal of the academies was "to give each of the five high schools in the Downcounty Consortium unique programs, so students could choose their high school based on the kind of program they wanted to attend." Ragan acknowledges the weight of such decisions on some students but explains that, within Blair, "the academies offer more flexibility" than Blair's CAP and Magnet, because students working toward an academy certificate may transfer into different academies if they are so inclined.

When the academies were first proposed, the distribution of academies among area high schools was partially intended to help alleviate the sheer weight of numbers of larger student bodies, including Blair's. However, this year, Blair's student body has increased, says Distler. He adds, however, that the population increase contributes to the "unique, attractive diversity" he and Ragan hope to see reflected in academy enrollment at Blair.

Meanwhile, the program's visibly enthused faculty seems to be pleased with the unique educational atmosphere they are creating for students. "Dedication to developing these courses," says Zepp, "takes commitment, courage and devotion. How can you not be proud of that?"

To contact Susan Ragan with questions or to research a specific academy, visit the Academies site . More information about other academies in the Downcounty Consortium is available here .

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Anuja Shah. Anuja "Otto" Shah, a Junior in the CAP, -is thoroughly excited to be part of SCO, -enjoys the word "fiasco", -aspires to be monstrously cool, -remains prepared to settle for being vaguely nifty, and -probably owes you money, but has fled the country. More »

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