Career academies make 'better' students

Posted April 3, 2011 1:44 p.m. EDT

Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, shows how career academies are raising the bar for high school students.

Laguana Creek High School in Sacramento, Calif., is home to three career academies, each with about 70 students. They take project-based, college-prep courses that combine core academics and technical training.

In one physics lessons, students designed home rockets using a computer-assisted design program and then launched the rockets to test their knowledge.

"The point is to help them learn physics, but the fun part is they get to design and launch a rocket," teacher Dave Hackett said.

Career academies encourage students to get beyond whatever problems they might be facing and to become excited about learning, Principal Douglas Craig said.

"We're very diverse. We have the same issues that any high school in American has," Craig said. "Offering kids options (so) that they can see that what they're learning is relevant beyond the walls of the high school is what's key."

Student Marcos Lopez said he might have found his vocation while taking classes in the Green Energy Technology Academy.

"I just signed up to see it what it was, green energy technology, took the class – loved it," Lopez said. "I actually want to continue, maybe become an electrical engineer."

The academy partners with several green businesses which provide expertise and mentors.

"It's our responsibility as industry people who are out there on the cutting edge to be mentors and help the students understand where the industry is going and give them some of the tools to help them succeed," said mentor Chris Schuring, with Ternion Bio Industries.

Craig said that along with future workers, the career academies are producing better students.

"When you take a look at an academy versus a general education population, you find that the academy students generally are academically stronger," he said. "They test better. The attendance is better. Everything has increased in a positive way."