Saturday, February 5, 2011

Educational Options for a Changing World

This week we officially unveiled The Academies at New Milford High School to our junior and sophomore students (next week we will roll it out to the freshman and eighth graders).  The three academies are Arts & Letters, S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), and Global Leadership.  For obvious reasons I was extremely excited to speak to my students about this initiative and the incredible opportunity that they would now have to be part of a structure that caters to their interests.  The question was, how would the students react to the program?
The answer to this question was one that would please any educator!  My students were so engaged during the presentation that you literally could hear a pin drop.  It was also at this time that we introduced new course offerings that we believe are better aligned with learning in the 21st Century.  Some examples include Digital Journalism, Chinese Language and Culture I, Biotechnology, Digital Photography, Bioethical Studies, and Rock of Ages: Popular Culture Through the Prism of Rock & Roll.  After covering all of the intricacies associated with the new academy structure the students were asked if they had any questions.  Immediately numerous hands went up into the air further indicating their interest in this structure.  Let me tell you, their questions were fantastic!

At this point I was on such I high after seeing and hearing the students positive reaction to The Academies at New Milford High School that I still wanted to engage them further to really feel the pulse of the student body, and feel it I did.  As I roamed the halls in the morning and the cafeteria during lunch,     I was approached by excited students inquiring about which academy they wanted to be a part of, courses that they would like to take, and the possibility of enrolling in more than one academy.  This had to be the best part of my day on Thursday and Friday.  Their excitement about what we do at NMHS really provides me with a sense of fulfillment in terms of the collective work being done by all levels of staff.

Here is an overview and rational for the academies:

  • Student interest: We want to create a culture of learning that focuses on their interests and passions. 
  • National need and global demand for qualified graduates.
  • Concentrated studies in career-focused areas connected to college majors and the 21st Century Workforce.
  • Increasing rigor and accountability across the board for all students. 
  • Re-branding of certain courses.  For example, English 11 will now be called Exploration in Contemporary American Works (this looks much better on a transcript that English 11).
  • Open to ALL students.  It should be noted that this is optional, but available to all students (there is no G.P.A. requirement).  
  • Special designation on high school diploma and colored cords to be worn at graduation.  The students will determine what those colors will be.
  • Authentic learning experiences aligned to each academy where credit will be awarded.  These include internships, independent study, travel, and work-related study.
  • Ability of all students to apply to take a Virtual High School Course (we only have 25 seats per semester).
This is just another example of the changes occurring at NMHS to better meet the diverse needs of all of our learners while preparing them for success in the 21st Century. The challenge I have made to my students is that their lives at NMHS should not be about finding themselves, but instead creating themselves.

So what do you think about our academy structure for 2011-2012?  Are there any components that you suggest we change, add, remove?


  1. Eric, I love the choices for students and the fact that it's so driven by their interests and passions. We need to remember providing options aren't about increasing numbers; rather, it's about being responsive to those we serve. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. I can't imagine your students would be anything other than enthusiastic about the new opportunities you're providing! I'm really interested in hearing more about the passion-driven learning experiences that result from this.

  3. Eric, have you read Harvard Graduate School of Education's "Pathways to Prosperity"? The academies echo a nugget phrase I took from the study: "It is time to widen our lens and to build a more finely articulated pathways system-one that is richly diversified to align with the needs and interests of our young people..." I see the fruits of the academy model everyday on the smiling faces of our students. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Eric-

    I really love this idea and I know it will help more students find their passions. I love that it is open to all students and I think it will be really interesting to watch which students take advantage of this opportunity and which ones don't. And then, of course, the natural question then flows- why would a student choose NOT to participate? And it's those kids I'd pay careful attention to and inquire further about to see what more could be done to encourage them (at an earlier age, I'm guessing).

    Will be cool to follow your progress and thanks for sharing this great idea!


  5. Through Twitter, I've been following your remarkable efforts in bringing real and measurable innovation to public education. Your programs are shaping up to be the antidote to the completely ineffective and short-sighted tactical programs like No Child Left Behind and the dangerous cult of test-score measurement. You're one of the few educators to stand up and say, "If kids aren't learning, maybe the solution isn't "tiger mothering" them into submission. Maybe it's our curricula and teaching methods that aren't working. Maybe there's a better way."

    I shudder to think about the large percentage of students in the US who are taught how to memorize, not how to think. Even if "NCLB" succeeds, we all still lose. What US education needs is more innovative and creative educators, like you, so we can give kids more than just a list of memorized dates and facts to prepare them for life in an ever more complicated world.

  6. Thank you all for the great comments and feedback!