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.