College preparation and career exploration in the Academies of Nashville

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 today and continuing through the end of April, she will share thoughts on how the Academies of Nashville provide career-based college preparation. Today's post focuses on the importance of early career exploration in high school. 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.

Academies of Nashville Tennessee My Future My Way

Career exploration emphasizes relevance

Starting early with career-based college preparation helps students reap the most benefit from high school and college. In the Harvard Graduate School of Education's study Pathways to Prosperity, the researchers state: “If high school career-focused pathways were firmly linked to community college and four-year career majors . . . more students would be likely to stay the course. Indeed . . . this is an exceptionally promising strategy for increasing post-secondary attainment” (pp. 13). When students see a purpose for their studies, they are more likely to value their education, graduate from high school, and go on to pursue post-secondary education. Beginning career exploration as freshmen encourages students to take their learning seriously and enables wise college preparation because students see their classes as steps toward longterm goals.

21st-Century Skills

Some of the most important skills for students to have success in college and careers are “soft” skills that often are absent from high school education. Employers and industry leaders often identify professionalism, teamwork, effective oral communication, critical thinking, and creativity as skills that many new hires lack (Are They Ready to Work?). Nashville is bridging the skills gap between students and the working world by emphasizing 21st-Century Skills. This gap is partially responsible for high dropout rates in college; students lack the focus and work ethic to make the most of their college education. To address dropouts and the skills gap in Nashville, the curriculum teaches industry knowledge in addition to academic subjects to help students understand their future options and what they need to do to prepare for professional opportunities.

Career and college preparation

The Academies of Nashville foster and reinforce the 21st-Century Skills students need through application-based learning and real-world problem solving. Regardless of the academy they choose, students take all the academic courses required to meet college entrance requirements. The difference is that they apply their academics to real-world situations in an area that interests them. Students choose from updated offerings that lead to post-secondary education opportunities and align with careers that are in high demand.

By structuring the high school curriculum around application-based learning in context, the Academies of Nashville prepare students to face the challenges of post-secondary education and the working world beyond. We live in a connected and interdependent world, and the Academies provide students not only with the academic training to understand that world, but also the interpersonal and communicative skills they need to work in the twenty-first century.


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