Since 1994, Volusia County Schools have nurtured thriving career academies. The evolution of the career academy model as a part of high school redesign, continues to adapt to meet the needs of the 21st Century student here in Volusia County. With a total of 41 career academies, the success of the academy model is directly linked to the outstanding teachers, directors, business members, school based administrators, district staff, parents and students who have a stake in the rigorous career based curriculum.

Graduating students who have both career experience and high level academic preparation, is the ultimate goal of career academies. The reality of a world with high stakes testing and increasingly high standards for employment required that Volusia build in the highest standards of quality within their academies. Since 2005, Volusia has utilized 12 Standards for Career Academies as a means to evaluate each academy on a yearly basis. As a result of feedback from academy director focus groups, the standards have been updated and combined into 9 Standards for the 2017-18 school year. Academies must meet minimum standards to retain their gold, silver, or bronze academy status. Integrated curriculum, pure schedule, and common planning are the three key components that separate an academy from any other CTE program. The additional standards further clarify a structure for what an academy should look like. This level of standardization has helped to serve as a benchmark for academies and a way to achieve the goal of measureable outcomes related to academy success.

A unique partnership in Volusia's journey through high school reform developed in 2007. The Ford Motor Fund's Partnership for Advanced Studies (PAS), Next Generation Learning initiative revolves around the creation of academically rigorous and relevant career academies coupled with project-based learning, and innovative teaching techniques. Ford PAS materials includes hands-on curriculum and Professional Development Provider (PDP) training for educators that will assist Volusia in taking career academies to the next level. Volusia is proud to be one of a select group of professional learning communities that are partnered with Ford from across the country. Volusia's pairing with Ford has evolved to include a pilot career academy site.The Academy of Information Technology and Robotics at Spruce Creek High School is a unique, fully integrated model that is generating positive student outcomes and strong data indicators of success.

The development and use of the Academy Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation Wiki was a thoughtful process that was intended to move the evaluation process to the next level. Demands on time and resources, both human and financial, have also shaped the changes. This wiki is meant to assist and support Volusia's career academy stakeholders in an effort to continue to maintain the highest quality offerings for the students of Volusia County, FL.

The career academy model can provide the framework for student learning in the continuous innovation society. Within this context, workers must construct, adapt, and refocus knowledge as needed. Career academy and small learning communities use interactive strategies which support the essential factors of the constructivist pedagogy: relevance of instruction, problem-based learning, social interaction learning, active learning, experiential learning, formative assessment, and facilitative teaching. Research suggests that students in career academies tend to have better attendance rates; stronger academic achievement; lower dropout rates; higher grades; fewer failed courses; greater participation in activities; less vandalism and violence; fewer behavioral incidents; and strong academic results especially for low-income and minority students (Smith, 2002). Furthermore, studies have shown that students retain knowledge when it is applied to real-life situations through an integrated curriculum model.

The Power of Integrated Curriculum:
Integrated curriculum (thematic instruction) organizing core instruction (reading, math, and science) with exploration of broad subject, theme, interest, or career area. Integrated curriculum is a way to teach students that attempts to break down barriers between subjects and make learning more meaningful. Furthermore, integration is an effective way to teach and learn because it corresponds with the way the brain works physiologically. Rather than separating knowledge into discrete partitions, the brain creates a complex web of information that recognizes patterns. Moreover, learning within a known context or experience helps the brain remember information more effectively (Caine, 1992). Integrated curriculum, then, teaches concepts that help students approach any situation or problem, rather than facts which have limited application.

Integrated curriculum meshes relevant CTE courses with rigorous academic core material and, this model has proven to lead to enhanced understanding and student achievement. A series of reports from a longitudinal study funded through the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) at the University of Minnesota reinforces the theory that relevant CTE curricula, when coupled with rigorous academic elements such as mathematics and reading, has a positive impact on student achievement (Harris & Wakelyn, 2007). The Math Learning in CTE longitudinal study sampled over 3,000 students and 131 CTE and mathematics teachers in 12 different states (Stone, Alfeld, Pearson, Lewis, & Jensen, 2006). Together, CTE and mathematics teachers developed real-world lessons tied to specific CTE courses. During a one-year period, the CTE teachers taught mathematics-enhanced lessons to the experimental group an average of 10% of the class time. Results showed that the experimental group scored, on average, 21 points higher on the TerraNova and ACCUPLACER mathematics ability assessments than students in the control group (Stone, et al., 2006). “Students respond when they learn mathematics as a tool to solve a workplace problem rather than merely as an abstract concept” (Harris & Wakelyn). Similarly, another study also confirmed that CTE course work can improve reading proficiency (Vaites, 2003). The fourth report released from the NRCCTE longitudinal study analyzed student achievement and progress in schools with experimental language arts-enhanced and science-enhanced CTE curricula (Castellano, Stone, Stringfield, Farley, & Wayman, 2004). Results indicate that CTE students exposed to enhanced reading and writing lessons had greater academic outcomes than students in the control group. In addition, students who academically lagged behind the control group in the early high school years closed this gap during the later high school years. Science results were more mixed, but more often than not, favored students from the study schools (Castellano, Stone, et al., 2004). These findings are in concert with other reports from this longitudinal study, which provide evidence that CTE can be offered effectively without forfeiting the integrity of core academic subjects (Castellano, Stone, et al.). “Curriculum integration has long been proposed as a way of organizing the common learnings or life skills considered essential for all citizens in a democracy. Curriculum is organized around real life problems and issues relevant to learners, applying pertinent content and skills from many subject areas or disciplines” (Vars & Beane, 2000).
Labor Market Outcomes:
In a recent report by Kemple (2008), reflecting more than 15 years of research on career academies, investing in career-oriented programs and experiences for high school students can also have long-term payoff in the labor market, particularly among those at high-risk for dropping out and minority males. In addition, students in the study academies “produced sustained earnings gains that averaged 11 percent (or $2,088) more per year for academy group members than for individuals in the non-academy group – a $16,704 (17 percent) boost in total earnings over the eight years of follow-up” (Kemple). Students in academy programs were also more likely to be exposed to career-awareness and development activities, including work-based experiences (Kemple).


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Castellano, M., Stone, J., Stringfield, S., Farley, E., Wayman, J. (2004). The effect of CTE-enhanced whole-school reform on student course taking and performance in English and science. Retrieved November 14, 2007 from the University of Minnesota, National Research Center for Career and Technical Education Web site:

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