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Thinking About Career Academies? We’ve Got a Checklist for You

By Meital Caplan
May 25, 2022

OneGoal Postsecondary Leadership Series Coach Andraya White worked with Freeport SD 145 to ingrain their recently adopted career academy model into their community, district, and school culture. Tapping into her years of experience with career academies, she shares the key considerations a school or district should consider when evaluating if the career academy model is right for them.

When considering changing to career academies as a strategy for your district, OneGoal Coach Andraya White has some essential recommendations to keep in mind:

Consider your school/district’s “why” and goals for student engagement

What drives your work? A clear focus and reason are essential. Discuss root causes and what’s within your sphere of control for transformative change, then consider if career academies and redesigning electives into pathway career courses are solutions to those root cause(s) you’re trying to solve. What trends are you noticing in your data analysis? Do you want to make curriculum and instruction relevant for all students? Are you seeing a lag in student engagement? Don’t underestimate the power of academy identity for students in terms of belonging; when students have the autonomy to choose an academy within their school, it gives them a community to be part of.

Identify if you have a workforce need and community interest

Buy-in and partnerships, beyond teachers and administrators, are essential for career academies to be successful. Carefully reflect on your school environment, institutional resources, and the needs within your local workforce and community.

Make sure you have an academy coach coordinator with multiple talents

Your building’s academy coach drives all implementation for career academy work. Successful academy coaches are strong leaders and have unique traits: they are embedded within the school community, have industry connections, and know how to leverage those connections. They understand the specific job-related skills that students need to be successful in different industries and work with administrators and teachers to align curriculum goals with those skills.

Solidify meaningful and accessible internships

Academies need the support and participation of local businesses and industries for funding and opportunities for job shadowing, internships, and mentorships. Consider how your school/district will work with business and community partners to build meaningful internships that are accessible to all students and more than simply “field trips.” Internships should provide actual training that students can use to enhance their resumes.

Identify a strong cohort of teachers

Teachers will need access to externships with business in the community, continuous professional development around the career academies model, be willing and enthusiastic to collaborate on curriculum and project-based learning, and intrinsically motivated by a belief in career education.

Seek advice and mentorship from fellow educators

Successful career academy models exist and can be tailored to fit the needs of your school and community. Take a trip to visit another established career academy school and learn from fellow educators who have and/or are currently implementing their model. Your peers in education can share real-time advice from the field, including their processes and even some of their challenges so that your school/district can aspire to avoid them.

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