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Academies Create Smaller Learning Environment for Freshmen

Olivia Heinze and Mickey Ferguson

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Three new academies have been introduced this year, and 700+ new freshmen flooded the hallways. Every freshman applied to one of the four academies, choosing from the Academy for Classical Studies, Global Studies, High Technology, or Science & Innovation.

“In life, all of the subjects are connected,”  Academy Director Nicole Griffith said. “When you go to a job, you use skills that you’ve learned in all of your different subjects. So we want students to be able to take what they’re learning in English and apply it to Social Studies, and we want those teachers to be able to work together.”

In recent years, a committee of teachers, administrators and parents met to discuss how the academies were to be structured, how scheduling would be changed, and how the school would look if every student had the opportunity to be in an academy. Counselors, teachers, and administrators filled out surveys on their interests and which academy they would like to teach in and help develop.

When I first heard about the academies, I was worried because I thought it was going to mean more work, but really I feel like it just separates the students,” freshman Gus Sheridan said.

Akins High School also follows an academy model, but it is primarily structured through electives, so that everyone is in core classes together. However, Austin High’s new academies are structured through the core classes.

“It’s easy to make your electives relevant,” Griffith said, “it’s harder to connect your core classes to the real world and to each other. AGS has always been through English, science, social studies, math and connecting those things. That’s what we did with the other academies as well, and then kids take whatever electives they would like to take, outside of their core academic. That’s different than most models for academies.”

Much of the structure for the three newly-introduced academies has been modeled after the structure of the Academy for Global Studies (AGS). This program has seen much success since its initiation 10 years ago, and from AGS each academy has drawn elements such as the four pillars of learning and “I can” statements.

“The way AGS is structured helped inform how we structured the other three academies; they just have a different focus of learning. In a lot of ways, because you don’t want to reinvent something that doesn’t need to be reinvented, it’s a model that was working,” Griffith said. “When kids graduate, they should be able to say, ‘I can do these things.’ So we now have ‘I can’ statements for all academies.”

The new academies also feature “Signature Experiences,” another element drawn from AGS. Every year, each AGS student has the opportunity to travel and go on learning expeditions. Now, all future students will have these opportunities as well.

“All of our freshmen are going on field trips this fall, which is really exciting as something that’s never happened. We want kids to get out of the classroom, and take their learning into the real world. The academy model really helps teachers to wrap their heads around what to do and where to go,” Griffith said.

The class of 2021 has grown greatly in comparison to previous years. The academies allow students to get personalized, closer learning experiences while still getting to experience a large campus, with football games, traditions, and a wide range of extracurriculars.

“I like [the academies] so far. I’m in Science and Innovation,”  freshman Townes Monteilh said. “It’s pretty nice having all my classes based around science. I wasn’t sure what the classes were going to be like, but now that I’m here, I’m really glad I signed up for the academy I did. I’ve been having a great time here. It’s really fun being here with all my friends. It’s all pretty perfect.”

The academies also aim to offer students a sense of family. Teachers and students will spend more time together, and work more closely with each other, as both will work in tight knit groups. Teachers in different departments now have opportunities to work together.

“Aside from the academics,” Griffith said, “the thing that AGS has given students is a sense of family. And that’s something that consistently AGS students express that they appreciate about their AGS experience. To be able to have a sense of community within a large school no matter who you are is important, and truly all kids deserve that.”

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Academies Create Smaller Learning Environment for Freshmen