Theme-based academies at new high school are limiting

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2007

The construction of the new high school offers the opportunity for educational reform designed to engage more students. Much has not been determined yet about how to form and maintain programs, activities and the overall learning environment in both schools, but the Next Generation Plan calls for one academy at each location.

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, an academy is a team of teachers who share the same students and who focus their coursework under a specific concentration. For example, the planning committees are currently discussing possible academies such as an international studies team or an environmental academy.

Taking into consideration the wide variety of interests and the uncertainty concerning what many students really want to focus on, the idea of theme-based teams limits people.

For example, music is very pivotal to many students. These same students also dream of becoming a paramedic and stress the importance of classes such as anatomy or physiology as an important part of their day.

Would this student select the health science academy or the fine arts one? The whole concept is entirely contradictory to popular belief that high school should be a time for students to experiment, explore and be exposed to a variety of things.

Additionally, even a flexible academy curriculum confines students, not only academically but socially. And it may increase stereotyping or judgmental categorization.

Dividing people into academies is clear-cut labeling people. You have the "nerds," the "band geeks," "jocks," etc. A multi-faceted student may be condensed to a reductive label because taking a broad schedule may be difficult.

With academies, these sorts of labels will become infinitely more pronounced. Biased categorizing of individuals off of their participation in a large group will probably rise. The student body may be more fragmented rather than united, which seems antithetical to the purpose behind these two schools: smaller communities, personalization, and a sense of community.

Also, if these academies are going to be segregated communities, a number of other things must be taken into account such as equity in terms of gender, socio-economics, motivation, etc. What if mostly guys sign up for the sports academy? What if mostly middle-class or upper class students select the college prep academy? How will the school establish equality?

One would hope that students would select their school based upon the programs offered, but realistically, many students may commit to an academy based upon their friends' choices or geography (it is possible that an academy may only be offered at one of the schools) rather than academic focus, which defeats the philosophy behind them.

And what if a lot of people find themselves deeply intrigued by the arts, but not enough students sign up for the engineering academy? Will there be academies with 200 students and some with 10? It's likely that many students (with pressure from their parents) would sign up for a college prep academy. Does that mean that college is more important or valid than construction? Also, does this suggest that only a college prep academy prepares us for college?

These academies appear as though they would have nothing but a detrimental effect on the educations of the vast majority of students. This isn't what we as a school, or community, should want.

• Wendy Byrnes is a 10th-grader in Ali McKenna's Juneau-Douglas High School "Writing for Publication" class. From the Hallways is a bi-monthly column showcasing the thoughts and opinions of students in McKenna's high school journalism class and Sarah Brooks' Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School writing workshop.a

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