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Educator: Academies target ‘relevancy piece’

Jefferson City joins Joplin in pursuing new education model

Jefferson City High School isn’t the only high school in Missouri on a path toward career academies.

Joplin High School also is moving that direction, with a slight semantic difference. Instead of building “academies,” Joplin is developing “career paths” for its 2,200 students.

Joplin Superintendent C.J. Huff said his district “is in the process of establishing partnerships with entities in the community,” but has not yet assigned students to the various planned academies.

“This career path conversation came out of discussions and fields trips held across the country,” Huff said.

Like Jefferson City, Joplin has held the “two schools conversation,” or the debate regarding whether a medium-sized community ought to support one or two public high schools. He said residents in his community were convinced the operating costs for a single high school are more affordable and a large high school can offer better programming opportunities.

“It’s more efficient,” Huff argued.

The decision to change was prompted in part by the tornado that devastated Joplin two years ago. “We knew we had an opportunity to create something new for our kids,” Huff said. “Educational trends come and go, but there’s a lot of research behind what we’re doing.”

Huff said the “relevancy piece” — the notion that teens will be more interested in learning geometry and trigonometry if they know how those concepts will apply in the real world of engineering, for example — is critical.

“There’s a real disconnect between the work students are doing and how it applies to the real world,” Huff said.

Huff said the biggest challenge, so far, is that no “canned curriculum” exists for teachers to follow as they embark on the project. But he noted that if America wants to remain an economic contender, it must educate its children for the 21st century marketplace and not rely upon 1960s-era pedagogy.

Huff acknowledged teachers are finding that change is hard. “I don’t think we’re going to hit a home run on day one,” he said.

Part of Joplin’s program is to help teach teens the “soft skills” — such as good work habits, communications skills and timeliness — they’ll need to survive in the workplace. The new “employability scorecards” will report how actively a student participates in and is prepared for class. Students will be held accountable for exhibiting career readiness traits, working well with others and dressing appropriately.

“It’s good information to share with parents,” he said.

Huff also said another advantage of career paths is that they help students evaluate and learn what jobs they may not want to do, thus saving them time and expense at the college level. Huff said he may not have ended up teaching elementary school if he had been exposed to other fields.

“I would probably have found a career path more science-based,” he said. “We’re trying to broaden students’ horizons a bit.”

Related article:

Town, educators, students at Arkansas school hail academies

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