Chelsea Parker is the Smaller Learning Communities Program Manager at Metro Nashville Public Schools. Her work focuses on building community partnerships for the Academies of Nashville. She also supports professional development for teachers and leads marketing and communications for Academies of Nashville programs and events. Before joining MNPS, Parker was the Director of Business Engagement in Education at the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, where she designed high-profile events such as the MNPS Career Exploration Fair and collaborated in the development of longterm strategies for sustainable high school reform in Nashville. Beginning last week and continuing through the end of April, she shares thoughts on how the Academies of Nashville provide career-based college preparation. Today’s post focuses on how the structure of the Academies of Nashville supports college preparation.
By structuring the high school curriculum around project-based learning and hands-on application, the Academies of Nashville prepare students for success in college and careers by providing knowledge, skills, and work habits that are crucial for success in the classroom and working world. Career-themed instruction improves students’ ability to understand the relevance of their education and encourages them to plan early for the post-secondary opportunities they will need to fulfill their professional and personal goals. In Nashville, we prepare students for college by providing career exploration earlier, restructuring high schools to bring academic studies to bear on real-world problems, and fostering community engagement.
School structure supports career-based college preparation
Career-based college preparation relies on a structure that focuses on career themes. Scheduling, teaming teachers, and the physical layout of a school impact the students’ experiences. In Nashville, first-year students enter a Freshman Academy that helps them transition into high school. This strategy seeks to help the students who are most vulnerable to dropping out of school.
For the final three years, every student joins a career-theme academy. In the Academies, they take college prep classes structured around an industry theme and complete three career-themed courses to achieve deeper understanding of their field of interest. This format aligns with the Tennessee Diploma Project, which requires three credits in a focused area as well as courses needed to attend four-year colleges. By aligning our graduation requirements with post-secondary institutions of higher learning, we are preparing our students to pursue some form of higher degree after they graduate from high school.
Interdisciplinary instruction fosters college preparation
School structure must foster an interdisciplinary environment that brings the intellectual tools of academic training to real-world problem-solving. In The Academies of Nashville, teams of teachers from different disciplines have collaborative planning time to develop interdisciplinary, project-based activities and student interventions. This arrangement produces more integrated coursework, provides support systems, and customizes professional development. As a result, we have seen lower discipline rates and increased student engagement.
Transitioning to block scheduling as a district is also increasing opportunities for learning experiences outside of the classroom. Longer class periods and increasing to 8 credits per semester permit increased field trips, job shadowing, and in-depth project work that reinforce the theme of each academy and facilitate greater learning in context. This scheduling change allows students to complete career exploration and pathway courses, have more time for advanced coursework, and earn college credit through dual credit/dual enrollment programs.
Prepare early: Freshman Academies
The Freshman Academy creates a close-knit community of students and teachers to help students transition to high school and explore how schoolwork provides the foundation to pursue their interests in college and career. All students take a Freshman Seminar course that offers broad career exploration and assists them in choosing one of the district’s forty-three career-themed academies. Freshmen also attend a district-wide Career Exploration Fair, where hundreds of local businesses and organizations host interactive displays to educate students about professional skills, careers options, and the post-secondary education required for different career paths. Students learn to interact in a professional setting and gain perspective about how their education is linked to future opportunities.
The Academies of Nashville link pathways of high-school courses to the post-secondary programs that lead to the students’ desired careers. The curriculum is aligned with college preparation and industry standards to ensure that students apply their studies to solve real-world problems using up-to-date technology. This helps students think about their future, see the reason for their education, and relate their academic knowledge to real-world situations for deeper learning.