Archives for March 2012

Antioch students job shadow at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Antioch High School students from the Academy of Teaching and Service enjoyed the opportunity to job shadow at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts on March 13, 2012. The students who attended learned about what the Frist offers to its audiences, the organization’s missions, and how each department operates. The Frist Center invited the students to attend a monthly faculty meeting to learn about a wide range of its operations. Below, Chris, Priscilla, and Qua’onna reflect on the day and what this experience means to them.

Antioch High students job shadow Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Antioch High students job shadow at the Frist

Art is a very important part of general education. In art, you are forced to see the world in different ways that allow you to solve problems from different perspectives. I also believe that art encourages you to be more creative in the ways that you approach education. It allows you to have the ability to think in more complex ways instead of thinking in a one-track mindset. Art education opens the doors to new skills, such as how you express yourself through communication as well as improving your comprehension.

Chris H.


Our experience at the Frist Center for Visual Arts was everything we hoped for and more. It was not a surprise to have the general museum tour while observing the artwork; however, it was unexpected to see such a unique exhibit with Fairytales, Monsters, and the Genetic Imagination. Equally surprising, we had the opportunity to see past the general public’s view at the Frist Center by attending the monthly faculty meeting. At the meeting, the faculty’s organization and teamwork caught our attention. Other unexpected aspects we learned about were the size of the education department and the number of volunteers.

We learned how interesting they make art education to keep the interest of the children. The techniques they used were purposeful to tackle all ethnic groups. We saw that the purpose of art education at the Frist Center is to give children the ability to see their world in different ways, in other words, to have an adventure wherever they are. We had not thought about the importance of enthusiasm and repetition needed by all adults that work around children.

Priscilla S.


Not everyone gets to go to a staff meeting at the Frist Center. Their staff meetings aren’t long and boring like the ones on television. At the Frist Center they’re quick and to the point, they make you feel like you belong there. It also seems like they all work together. They’re very friendly, and work well together as a team.

Qua’onna L.

Middle Tennessee STEM Hub will foster real-world learning

The Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub is mandated to enhance real-world learning for students at all grade levels by building and engaging a network of community partners in the business world and higher education. The Hub will encourage collaboration and conversation between public schools, businesses, colleges, and universities in order to better understand the needs of students, businesses, and the community.

Dr. Vicki Metzgar has been appointed to lead the implementation of the Hub over the next two years. She has played an important role in MNPS‘s STEM initiatives, including the design and implementation of the STEM program at Stratford STEM Magnet High School. She says, “The aim of the STEM Innovation Hub is to create a forum for public schools, higher education, and the business community to share needs, ideas, and best practices. STEM-related jobs are among the fastest growing in the country . . . . We need to take advantage of the wonderful STEM resources throughout our region and help our young people graduate with the skills and certifications that the ever-expanding STEM industry needs.”

The Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub will rely on partnerships with important organizations throughout the region. Many of these organizations have developed strong working relationships with MNPS schools through the Academies of Nashville program. They include:

Vanderbilt University Center for Science Outreach
Lipscomb University
Fisk University
Nashville State Community College
Volunteer State Community College
Tennessee Tech University
Austin Peay State University
Middle Tennessee State University
Robertson County Schools
Cheatham County Schools
Alignment Nashville
PENCIL Foundation
HCA Healthcare
Deloitte Services LP
Ford Motor Company Fund
Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publisher
Adventure Science Center
ACE Mentor Program of America, Inc.
Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory
Tennessee Engineering Foundation
Nashville Branch, American Society of Civil Engineers (NB-ASCE)
Tennessee Business Roundtable
Geospatial Learning Model

Stratford a crucial piece of Middle Tennessee STEM Hub

Stratford STEM Magnet High School is playing a vital role in Tennessee’s state-wide efforts to prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Stratford is a major part of the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub, a program designed to support students with rigorous STEM instruction, engage adults in a professional learning community, and build a network of community partners who will help drive innovative strategies for the regional STEM initiative.

Associate superintendent of MNPS high schools Jay Steele notes that the progress in the STEM initiative in Middle Tennessee is largely thanks to the successes enjoyed by the implementation of the Academies of Nashville: “The work Metro Schools has done with our Academies of Nashville model laid the groundwork for this hub. Because of our Academy model and the engagement of our business and higher education communities, we have an outstanding consortium of partners already working with Metro high schools. They will be key to the successful implementation of this regional hub.”

MNPS is the only school district in Tennessee to offer a K–12 STEM continuum, thanks to programs at Hattie Cotton STEM Magnet Elementary, Bailey STEM Magnet Middle, Isaac Litton Middle, and Stratford STEM Magnet High. The focus on STEM instruction at these schools was developed as a result of a $12 million Magnet School Assistance Program Grant from the United States Department of Education. The grant, the success of these STEM programs, and the strength of the Academies of Nashville all were important reasons why MNPS was selected to lead the development of the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub.

Tennessean article recognizes Academies’ role in declining dropout rate

Julie Hubbard’s article “Nashville school district sees decline in dropout rate” credits nontraditional schools, such as the Academy at Old Cockrill, and the Academies of Nashville with the significant decline in the dropout rate in MNPS high schools. The article points out that Nashville’s dropout rate in 2007 was seven percent; last year, it was two percent, in line with the average of the counties in the Middle Tennessee region. The Academies of Nashville are using interdisciplinary, project-based curricula to connect students with their interests in the classroom. This approach to real-world learning helps students see the relevance of their studies and the value of their education.

Hubbard’s article focuses on the incredible gains made at Glencliff High School over the past few years. She writes, “Nearly 20 percent of Glencliff students were absent on any given day a few years ago. It’s now 2 percent.” By providing relevance and context for academic studies, the Academies of Nashville convince students that achieving a solid education is an important step in securing their professional and financial future.

The article also notes that the Academies of Nashville program is gaining a national reputation for excellence in high school reform. Just recently, Nashville hosted educational leaders from around the country at the Nashville Study Visit, a representative from the U.S. Department of Education visited Hillwood High School, and the city will host the National Career Academy Coalition Conference in November.

Required Reading: liberal arts and technical training

The “Required Reading” series on the Academies of Nashville blog brings interesting and informative articles on contemporary educational issues to the attention of the Nashville community. The Academies of Nashville are at the forefront of education reform in the United States, and it is important that our community be aware of emerging issues and debates from across the nation.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is an educational policy organization that seeks to advance educational opportunities for all students. The organization provides a platform for commentary on educational issues from leading scholars and reformers in its Education Gadfly Weekly, a newsletter with reviews, analysis, and opinions on a range of issues.

On February 23, 2012, the Education Gadfly Weekly posted a pair of commentaries on the relative merits of liberal arts education and technical training. These comments were written by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Peter Meyer. Both editorials recognize the need to find a place for both liberal arts education and technical training to prepare our students to be good citizens and successful professionals in our modern, global economy.

How does the structure of the Academies of Nashville support more meaningful learning?

The Academies of Nashville are backed by research of best practices and have been carefully structured to improve student learning. Key components of this structure include smaller learning communities, business partnerships, work-based learning experiences, and interdisciplinary projects to provide meaningful learning opportunities. Each of these components is discussed below.

In an academy, students are part of a smaller learning community. Rather than being just an individual in a large school, students are part of a group of only 200 to 300 students. These students share many of the same teachers and are able to build strong relationships with adults and other students. This allows students to have critical support in their studies.

Each academy in Nashville is supported by business partnerships. These businesses serve several roles in the academy. As part of their role, the businesses serve on the academy advisory board where they provide valuable advice on the curriculum for the academy classes. This helps ensure that what is being taught in the academy classes is relevant and authentic.

The business partnership also provides real-world business context to the learning experiences. Partners do this by making classroom visits, hosting field trips, and having students job shadow or intern in their offices. Based on feedback from students, these experiences are among the most meaningful in their high school experience and provide a much deeper understanding of potential careers.

There are five to ten teachers in each academy that share planning time. During these planning sessions teachers put together interdisciplinary lessons based on the theme or careers of the academy. These lessons provide important context to all of the subjects being studied and enhance the student learning experiences. At the same time, this common planning time allows teachers to coordinate their efforts and monitor the progress of all students more effectively.

Many supports are built into the structure of academies to support learning. Years of experience from academies throughout the United States have provided Nashville with a research-based set of best practices that are proven to enhance learning.

Learning about teaching and service through Read Across America

Jerica J. is Antioch High School‘s valedictorian this year and a student in the Academy of Teaching and Service. On March 2, 2012, she participated in Read Across America, an event created by the National Education Association to foster a love in reading in children throughout the United States. The event also celebrates the birthday of Dr. Seuss to honor his contributions to children’s literature and learning.

Antioch student Read Across America Dr. Seuss

Lakeview Elementary Design Center, an MNPS elementary school, had “Read Me Week” for their students in celebration of the late Theodor Seuss Geisel’s birthday. He wasalso known as Dr. Seuss. During this week, students and adults from different schools came to read some of their favorite children’s books to the students. My peers and I were just a handful of those students. The group I went to read to was a third grade class and I must say that it was a success! The students were great and so excited about having what they called “big kids” come into their class to read to them. The four students from my class and I were given about 3 to 4 students each and we read books that we thought the children would like. My group was pretty energetic and, like I said before, excited!  It was such a great experience and I really enjoyed myself. Just to see those “kool-aid” smiles made my day. I would love to do it again and would encourage students to take part in a similar activity next year.

Nashville will host National Career Academy Conference in November

Jay Steele is the Associate Superintendent for High Schools at MNPS. He has been instrumental in leading the overall plan for high school reform in Nashville, working with national organizations such as the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies and the National Career Academy Coalition. In this post, he talks about how Nashville will be home to the sixteenth National Career Academy Coalition Annual Conference in November, 2012.

Nashville will proudly host the National Career Academy Conference in November.  The Academies of Nashville will be on full display as we welcome academy supporters from across the nation.  A local committee is getting started this month in designing exciting workshops, tours, and discussions on innovative ways to engage students in learning and preparing for college and career.  Over 90 students from the Academies of Nashville will be working the conference to make sure our guests feel welcome as they visit our city and schools.  Tours will be provided to the academies throughout our twelve wall-to-wall high schools.  Guests will see first-hand how the academy structure can truly transform a school, district, and city.  Guests will meet our incredible teachers, administrators, students, and see business partners doing in-depth work in the Nashville public schools.  The Academies of Nashville are always willing to share best practices with anyone who wants to learn from our experience.  Incredible foundations, a terrific Chamber of Commerce, great principals, dedicated teachers, enthusiastic students, and the world’s best business partners will welcome you to Nashville. We are hard at work designing special experiences showing our guest why Nashville is truly Music City USA.  See you in November!

Student internships at the Nashville Public Defender’s office

Escarlet E. is an academy ambassador for McGavock High School‘s Academy of Health Science and Law. Last spring, she had a student internship at the Nashville Public Defender‘s office. She recently interviewed the three McGavock students who are currently interning at the Public Defender’s office: Kevin S., Lesley S., and Wensly D. All of these students are benefiting from the real-world learning experiences made possible by their academy’s community partnerships.

Throughout high school, many students are given opportunities to excel.  Schools all through the state offer different types of hands-on learning. At McGavock High school, in addition to our rigorous courses, we have students from several academies that complete internships. Students are first nominated by their CTE teachers and are later required to pass several hurdles in order to participate in these student internships.  These hurdles consist of applications, interviews, and training. I had the opportunity to have an internship at the Nashville Public Defenders Office last summer. It truly was one of the most amazing experiences of my high school career and allowed me to glimpse what my future can look like. Unfortunately, my turn is over, but now we have other students in my Criminal Justice course who are getting their turn. Kevin S., Lesley S., and Wensly D. are all interning this spring at the Nashville Public Defenders office.

I was able to interview each of the students and listen to their experiences. Kevin said, “This is a lot of fun, and I really am learning how to do intake.”  Lesley followed that up with, “I have so much fun talking to all of the attorneys; I really am learning a lot and I am certainly going to miss this experience.” Both of these students have their internships on the same day of the week, and aside from learning from the internship, they also learn from each other. When one of them has a question, the other is there to help out. Every time Wensly speaks of his internship he always shows great enthusiasm and says that everyone in the office is extremely nice to the interns.

At the Public Defender’s office, the students are trained to talk to defendants by phone or in person. The students answer questions about court dates, out dates, and even bond fees. In order to be an intern, they received training on how to properly talk to clients and how to access necessary computer information. Sometimes when the interns finish their assignments, attorneys take them to court. There they are able to actually get a glimpse of what a career as a public defender can look like.

McGavock High School is a building full of opportunity, and these internships are just the beginning for these students. Their hard work paid off. They have excelled in every single one of the tasks given to them, and our academy is extremely proud of their accomplishments.

Deciding on a future profession through job shadowing

Jasmyne B. is a junior in Whites Creek High School‘s Academy of Community Health. This academy partners with CIGNA Government Services, Meharry Medical College, the Metro Public Health Department, and Vanderbilt Sports Medicine to give students real-world learning opportunities in the healthcare industry. Job shadowing is an important experience for many academy students because it gives them a chance to learn about the day-to-day activities of a profession and the educational requirements for entering that line of work. In today’s post, Jasmyne writes about how her experiences in the Academy of Community Health and job shadowing have guided her professional goals.

Whites Creek High School Academy Community Health

Growing up, I always thought about becoming a teacher. As I was finishing my ninth-grade year, I was introduced to the Academy of Community Health. During my sophomore year, after being taught about the different health fields, I decided that I wanted to be a a registered nurse (RN). In my Health Education class we learned about vital signs, CPR, and so much more.

At the beginning of my eleventh-grade year, I still wanted to be an RN. Then, I went on a job shadow at the Health Department. That day I shadowed an RN and she introduced me to different types of RNs and doctors. During the job shadow we talked about gynecology. From that day on I knew I would like to become a gynecologist and specialize as an OBGYN.

Job shadowing helped me determine what career I was more interested in. My experience in the Academy of Community Health has taught me how important health careers are. In my academy we also have a lot of opportunities to get involved in events. I was able to demonstrate CPR at our health fair that we hosted in 2011. I am also involved in HOSA and participate in their events.  HOSA and my academy classes have taught me so much that I didn’t know about healthcare. I now realize that choosing the Academy of Community Health was the right choice for me.

Turning the vision of education reform into reality: the Academy of Hospitality & Finance at McGavock

In the coming months, seven of the Academies of Nashville will undergo a thorough review by the National Career Academy Coalition in the hopes of obtaining national accreditation. Being ready for this review is the result of years of hard work, planning, and perseverance to create a learning environment that prioritizes professional skills and real-world learning opportunities while preparing students for success in college and careers. Shannon Alexander is an English teacher at McGavock High School and has worked on these reform efforts with the Academy of Hospitality & Finance. She writes about the challenges and triumphs of implementing the academy model at McGavock, and looks forward to continuing to provide students with dynamic, interdisciplinary instruction with the collaboration of a great team of academy partners, such as Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center and U.S. Community Credit Union.

Five years ago we began our venture to establish the Academy of Hospitality & Finance. As teachers, used to managing our own classrooms, just the mere mention of academies was an uncomfortable idea. Many of us were not sure how we felt about the concept or if it would actually help increase the rigor, relevance, and relationships within Metro Nashville Public Schools. We spent countless hours researching, learning, and training to become more than the traditional teacher. We re-trained ourselves to be business-minded team teachers focused on providing our students with a pathway-driven learning experience.

Although our development of the Academy of Hospitality & Finance was not without its difficulties, we pushed ourselves to new lengths. As we experimented and continued to grow, we began to see the results of our hard work. We saw how much stronger and more effective we could be as a team. We began to learn about the fields of hospitality and finance through our business partners. We began to see our students enter our rooms with a whole new perspective on learning. Suddenly, those several years of intense efforts flourished into a fully-functioning academy.

Our students are excited to be a part of an interest-focused academy. They are actively working on collaborative, interdisciplinary projects directed toward their field of study.  They are learning, understanding, and able to tell you how they are going to use the information and skills they are taught later in life.  Students are working harder, learning more, and experiencing the necessary work-place skills to be successful, productive students and employees. Our students that are working in the finance sector with the U.S. Community Credit Union added a fully-functioning bank right here at McGavock. Others are working closely with our Gaylord/Opryland business partners in the hospitality field. They are learning through their personal interests. They want to participate in school. Attendance has improved, as have grades and test scores.

Academies are working. We have succeeded in fully implementing the Academy of Hospitality & Finance and will continue to improve and strengthen our program. We have all worked very hard to bring what was once only a vision to become a fully-functioning, gainful academy focused on real-life experiences, hands-on learning, college prep, and work-place readiness.

Warner Music Nashville and Pearl-Cohn partner to create first student-run music label

At a press conference today at Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and John Esposito, president and CEO of Warner Music Nashville, announced the creation of the first student-run music label in the United States. The record label will be fully-functioning and will be operated by students at Pearl-Cohn High School with the mentoring of music industry professionals from Warner Music Nashville. All students in the Academies of Nashville program and MNPS high schools will be eligible to be signed by the label.

Mayor Karl Dean announced student record label at Pearl-Cohn High School

The new record label is part of the Music Makes Us initiative, a campaign spearheaded by Mayor Dean and the music industry to make Nashville’s music education program one of the best in the nation. Mayor Dean said that “our music community is a tremendous, untapped resource for our public schools. With this record label . . . we will for the first time take full advantage of the many talented individuals on both the creative and business side of the industry who live and work in Music City.”

Listen to Mayor Karl Dean’s full announcement

Founding the record label is part of a broader implementation of creative programs at Pearl-Cohn. Next year, the school will begin offering courses in songwriting taught by adjust faculty who are professionals in the music industry. MNPS will become the first school district in Tennessee to offer songwriting classes. The recording facilities at Pearl-Cohn, already outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, will be expanded through a $200,000 investment under the advising of producers and engineers from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Science.

“Whether you end up with a career in the music industry or not, we know that exposure to the arts will make you a better student,” Mayor Dean said. “It’s an industry that brings creative, talented people to our city in incredible numbers, and we know that cities that will succeed in the future will be the cities with creative people.” Dean placed the new record label into the larger context of providing real-world learning and experience for Nashville’s students, to whom he referred as “the future employees of the city and the future employers of the city.”

John Esposito Warner Music Nashville announced student record label at Pearl-Cohn

Esposito reinforced the role the music industry can play in education in Nashville and expressed his excitement to be part of such a committed partnership with the Academies of Nashville. “Music is an essential part of every child’s development, and with this program, we’re combining music education with lessons in business and entrepreneurship.”

There will be a contest in March and April to determine the name of the student-run music label. Nashville students will be able to begin submitting applications in May for auditions and demo sessions in July. The label will launch officially in August. Warner Music and its affiliates will work with the label to distribute its recording on major digital content providers such as iTunes and Amazon Music. The label’s revenue from the sale of songs will go back to the Music Makes Us initiative to make the program self-sustaining and further invest in music education in Nashville. Warner Music Nashville will have the first opportunity to sign recording deals with student artists who are part of the label after they graduate.

The benefits of project-based learning

The Academies of Nashville program strives to give students real-world learning opportunities that put core academic subjects into the context of real problem solving. We believe our students will be more motivated to pursue their education and professional development if they understand how their time in school is contributing to the larger goals they have for their future.The Whole Child ASCD

Associated with ASCDThe Whole Child Blog is a great source of resources and ideas about this type of learning. This blog draws from many of the organizations and resources that have informed the philosophy behind the Academies of Nashville, such as the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills and the Common Core State Standards Initiative. A recent post by Thom Markham advocated the benefits of project-based learning for adolescent mental and intellectual development. Much of what Dr. Markham has to say coincides with the Academies of Nashville, but one statement in particular stands out:

Inquiry into adolescent mental health, youth development, and developmental psychology has revealed the three core conditions required for young people to develop a “drive and thrive” outlook that leads to successful adulthood: experiencing mastery, finding meaning and fulfillment, and having a constructive relationship to a caring, adult mentor. These are the exact three factors crucial to effective PBL, which cannot succeed without a strong teacher-student relationship; a challenging, meaningful problem to be solved; and broad-based assessments that emphasize mastery and growth over time.

The Academies of Nashville are drawing on this important trend in education research to motivate our students by helping them create connections between their classroom learning and its real-world application through project-based learning.

McGavock Academies open health and law career paths to students

In this post, Kathy P. of McGavock High School writes about how the Academies of Nashville have introduced students to new academic interests and career opportunities through application-based learning. Kathy is a student in the Academy of Health Science and Law. The Academy of Health Science and Law benefits from the support of its principal community partners: Aegis Sciences Corporation, the Nashville Airport Authority, the Tennessee Justice Center, and United Neighborhood Health Services. These partners facilitate real-world learning opportunities for students by assisting in lesson plan development, donating equipment, hosting interns and volunteers, and giving students the chance to interact with professionals in health and law.

At McGavock High School, students have had an amazing opportunity thanks to our newly formed academies. In these academies, students get a chance to pick one of four academies that interests them in pursuing careers like doctor, nurse, veterinarian, police officer, lawyer, etc. This gives students a better idea of what they want to pursue after high school.

Laboratory for health science at McGavock High School

McGavock High School health science lab

My choice of academy was health science. I chose this academy because I plan on going to medical school after I graduate. At first, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but thanks to the Academy of Health Science and Law, I have a better idea of careers I want to pursue in the medical field. The school has provided two labs dedicated to the academy: the health science lab and the computer lab. The health science lab is a room fully equipped with all types of supplies that you would see in a hospital. We even have life-sized dolls to act as patients. I have learned how to drape patients, wrap sprained body parts, and many other things I would never have learned without the academy. The other lab is the computer lab. We use the computers for researching diseases, making resumes, and typing research papers.

Overall, having academies has helped all of the students at McGavock High School. Without these academies, students would be deprived of all the “hands on” action they have experienced thanks to all the new equipment our school has received. And without having academies, after students graduate most would leave high school not knowing what they really want to study in college. Academies have helped students become more encouraged to finish high school to pursue their newly found dream occupation.

Celebrate Open Education Week, March 5-10, 2012

A fundamental goal of the Academies of Nashville is to instill a life-long interest in learning and education in the Nashville community. The Internet has opened up many new channels by which people can access information and improve their understanding of the world. March 5–10, 2012 is the first Open Education Week, a celebration of freely accessible educational resources available on the Web. The event has been put together by Creative Commons, a non-profit organization that provides the legal infrastructure for intellectual property to be shared, used, and altered for educational purposes.

Open Education Resources are a great tool that teachers and students in the Academies of Nashville can use to enhance real-world learning. Below is a list of some of the major resources available on the Web on a wide variety of subjects. You can find information about other education resources at the Creative Commons Education Project.

Khan Academy

The Khan Academy site allows students to view videos on many subjects, complete practice exercises, and take assessments to learn more about their mastery of the subject.

The Khan Academy offers over 1800 instructional videos covering everything from basic algebra to advanced chemistry, biology, and even the current day banking crisis. While working at an investment fund, Salman Khan started tutoring his younger cousins in his spare time by creating and posting videos to YouTube. As the videos grew in popularity, the Khan Academy was born. 200,000+ students use the site each month, and all videos are licensed under CC BY-NC-SA, with some already translated into Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, and more.

Learn more about the Khan Academy.

MIT Open Courseware

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology makes course content from over 200 of its courses available through the Open Courseware project. This idea has spread to hundreds of universities and institutions of higher learning worldwide. The Open Courseware Consortium organizes information about these resources in a single location.


Textbooks and other learning materials can be very costly. The CK-12 Foundation makes available subject-area content that aligns with curriculum standards for grades K through 12.

The CK-12 Foundation addresses the growing costs of textbooks and the closed, outdated medium in which they are available. Focusing specifically on textbooks for K-12 schools, the nonprofit works with states and institutions to build web-based, collaborative “flexbooks” that are free to use and adapt via CC BY-NC-SA. The CK-12 Foundation is a major contributor to the California Free Digital Textbooks Initiative, a CA initiative that aligns open textbooks to state standards.

The books on this site are known as Flexbooks because they can be rearranged and altered to fit the specific needs of a school, class, or teacher.