Pro/Con: Are academy programs at Blair effective at motivating students?

June 7, 2011, 11:08 a.m. | By Helen Bowers Eliza Wapner | 10 years, 5 months ago

No: The academy program is ineffective and should be improved

Unbalanced is the word that describes American education. On the one hand, there are students who do not show up to class, are not interested in the subjects and drop out as soon as it is legal. Then on the other hand, there are academically-motivated overachievers who strive to defeat all competition and succeed in every subject. At a school as big as Blair, this paradox only adds to what separation is already rampant among students. Blair's solution to this problem is to stuff students into one of five academies. But such misguided action has done nothing to help motivate students.

According to Academy Program coordinator Kevin Moose, academies were formed to create small learning communities in Blair with students and teachers who share similar academic interests in order to motivate students. The problem is that Blair academies don't meet this goal.

Academies should interest and engage students, making school an enjoyable experience full of thought-provoking discussions instead of dull busywork. Academies could create small learning communities, but the policies must be changed.

In order to get an academy certificate, students must complete three "strand classes," courses designed specifically to fulfill their academy's requirements. A student at Blair will take seven classes each semester, which means that Blazers take 28 classes by the time they graduate, only three of which are tailored to their interests. The low requirement of strand classes hardly enables students to form a bond with teachers and classmates in the same academy.

Blair should require that students take at least three of their strand classes every year, and their core classes should reflect their academy. For instance, students interested in International Studies would take World History or Middle East Studies to fulfill their history credit requirements.

Another way to generate interest is to have interdisciplinary activities. Let the Media Academy put on a concert where the Entrepreneurship Academy sells tee shirts and other paraphernalia. Students would be able to specialize unique focus interests by meeting others with similar academic inclinations and build relationships with them by working towards a common goal.

Interdisciplinary activities would benefit a lot of Blazers. For example, junior Claire Ettinger has found that she wants to be a physical therapist after she leaves Blair. Ettinger enrolled in the Human Services Academy because one of its strands is Health and Fitness.

But being a physical therapist requires more than knowing how to rebuild muscles. There's a lot of science involved as well. "Anatomy is a pre-requisite that you have to take to get into any of the athletic training/therapist stuff," Ettinger said. However, she cannot get credit for her academy from taking anatomy, since it is not a strand class for the Human Services Academy.

In order for small learning communities to be effective, students have to bond with their classmates who share interests in academic goals. Interdisciplinary activities would be fun, academic group activities open to students who actively take part in their academy. Students like Ettinger, who have specifically tailored academies would have to discuss with their counselor about which activities would suit them best. For instance, Ettinger might go to a Human Services interdisciplinary where she learns how to work with disabled citizens, then perhaps a Science Math and Technology activity.

Yes: Academies can provide a specialized and career-oriented education.

In a school of around 3,000 people, Blair can seem awfully huge. With Blair Boulevard crowds, numerous confusing stair cases and students sprawled all over Blair during lunch, a student can easily feel lost in a sea of Blazers. The academies help turn those 3,000 people at Blair into groups of smaller communities of students.

Academy programs were originally developed for at-risk schools around the country. But the Downcounty Consortium decided to use the academy system in 2006 as an attempt to benefit non-Magnet program students. The academies successfully provide students with exciting classes, experience in their field of choice and interesting opportunities.

Students must take at least three academy-specific classes to receive a certificate of completion, a chord at graduation and a special recommendation letter that is sent to colleges. The academies give students the opportunity to take classes in subjects where their interests lie, making school more interesting and appealing.

The academy classes allow students to dabble in certain professional fields in high school before they commit to it in college or life. Among other benefits of this experience, students get a glimpse at the core of their concentration, allowing them to more accurately judge that interest. Academy coordinator, Kevin Moose, said that many students enter ninth grade hoping to become a doctor or pediatrician. But the academies help expose them to a wider variety of career options within the medical realm, such as nursing or radiology.

This helps student in the long run, according to guidance counselor Laschell Wilson. "The beauty of the academies is that students get to expose themselves to cool subjects so they know if they're going to be interested in them and you don't spend unnecessary funds in college," said Wilson.

Academies also assist in the college application process and throughout a student's college experience. Colleges like to see that students have passions and that they are applying themselves in high school, according to Wilson. The special letter of recommendation written by an academy leader give colleges an idea of a student's academic seriousness, she said.

The academies also provide a basis for college education. According to Moose, many students who end up in majoring in areas that overlap with their academies find that the material they learned in Blair academy classes really has helped them by making their classes a little bit easier.

The academies also provide unique opportunities to their participants such as internships, competitions, field trips, speakers and travel. Senior Emma Kaufman was connected to a summer program in Costa Rica through Moose last year. She received a scholarship to travel and do a language intensive with a family.

Like Kaufman, junior John Shedd, who chose to come to Blair because of the strong Entrepreneurship academy, has participated in business competitions and is completing a business internship next year.

Shedd's business internship will serve as his Capstone. A Capstone is a project or experience that is outlined in a journal, written about and presented that results in a special certificate at graduation.

The academies require no extra funding; the positions required to facilitate the program have decreased. The academy coordinator used to require 3.4 full time paid positions, but now they only require 1.2, according to Moose. Thus they in no way hinder Blair budget or resources.

As with any school program, not all students participate fully in the academies and therefore do not gain the program's maximum benefit. But the motivated students who take advantage of the academy opportunities are provided with interesting classes and preparation for college and the world beyond. Blair must not forgo a low-cost, innovative program that gives students an exciting and invigorating high school experience.

Students everywhere could benefit from being involved in their academics. Making classes more interesting would motivate students to participate in class and involving students in interdisciplinary activities would acquaint them with academically similar-minded students. Academies need to start doing what they were designed to do and get students truly interested in the curriculum.

Helen Bowers. More »

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