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A New Model for High School Curriculum

(ARA) - As high schools across the country try to carry out the Bush administration’s “no child left behind” policy while facing ever-shrinking budgets, East Ridge High School in Chattanooga, Tenn. has created a program that gets part of its funding from the local construction industry. Best of all, the program has proved effective for students who might otherwise not thrive with a traditional high school curriculum.

The Construction Career Academy is based on a model of a modified “school within a school” that is organized around a construction career theme. The program integrates curriculum, applied academics, work-based learning, team teaching and partnerships with employers, community and higher education. East Ridge’s academy connects the core academic subjects with a particular field of study and provides avenues to explore a variety of construction opportunities.

The academy, which opened in fall 2002 with 50 students, is sponsored by the Associated General Contractors of America, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group that represents the construction industry and the AGC of East Tennessee, one of the association’s local chapters. Enrollment for the 2004 school year is projected to be 75 to 100 students as the program is being expanded to include sophomores. The school’s mission is to prepare students in grades 10 through 12 for the future by providing a foundation in academics, broad exposure to the construction industry and relevant vocational education preparation.

“Students can pursue either a construction apprenticeship or a college path,” says AGC spokesperson Dennis Day. “Both paths lead to many career opportunities in construction: project manager, craftworker, designer, engineer, field supervisor, inspector and suppliers are just a few of the careers related to the construction industry.”

Career academies differ from traditional vocational education in that they prepare high school students for both college and work. Academies remove the distinction between college prep and vocational tracks, bringing together students who are usually separated. Students become more interested in subjects such as math or science when they see how these disciplines are applied in the real world. “I think the Construction Academy has helped me a lot. My math grade has improved. I even like coming to school more,” says student Darren Camp.

Enrollment in the Construction Career Academy is open to students from any of the county’s high schools, but students must apply for a spot in the program. This includes a written application, letters of recommendation and an interview with instructors and construction industry representatives.

Teachers welcome the opportunity to get involved in the academy as well. “When I first heard of the Construction Academy concept, I was fascinated,” says English instructor Denise Hearn. “For some time I had struggled to engage students in English class and to show them the relevance of the class in relation to their future lives and jobs.” She reports that she has seen a direct correlation between the working world and the skills her students are asked to master in English.

Chattanooga is not the only community that is adopting construction education alternatives. A new Charter School has recently opened in St. Louis. While Charter Schools are not a new concept, the new high school, called Construction Careers Center, focuses on construction, but stresses academics. Set in a run-down elementary school, which sat abandoned for many years, students repair the facility between science, math and English classes.

The Careers Center is producing good results. The first graduating students will be in 2005 and are guaranteed an entry to an apprenticeship program of their choice. “AGC and our chapters across the country are challenging students to reach their maximum potential and provide a positive environment. East Ridge High School and the Construction Careers Center are prime examples of how the construction industry is exploring ways to reach students and get them interested in the construction industry,” says Day.

For more information on construction education opportunities, contact The Associated General Contractors of America at www.agc.org.

Courtesy of ARA Content




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